Dogs, Man’s Best Friend. I have been blessed with many loyal furry friends over the years and have many cherished memories with my pets. The first dog in my life, that I barely remember, was named King. King was a German Shepard, like many of my dogs over the years, and my parents loved to tell stories of his loyalty and love. My favorite tale of him was from when I was just a toddler. He would reportedly pick me up by my diaper and carry me from location to location to keep me out of what he perceived as danger. Cactus, open door leading downstairs, creepy aunt, King “saved” me from all of it. I was too little to remember most of it firsthand and sadly he passed away while I was still young.
The first dog I remember clearly was Ruffles who got his name due to his love of the potato chips by the same name. He was a full-blooded Pekingese and most of the time the meanest little shit you could cross paths with. I don’t recall how we came by Ruffles but I knew that he had a Napoleon complex and didn’t take gruff from anyone. My sister and I were among the few who could play with him, I think because we were smaller than the adults but we had to be careful because when he was done you didn’t want to push him.
Anytime my parents had people over Ruffles was always relegated to the backyard or the basement (weather dependent). Unfortunately, at one such party while Ruffles ruled the backyard my parents put a cooler on the back deck filled with drinks. The deck was a few feet off the ground and a kiddie gate was placed across the steps up to the deck. They failed to factor in his tenacity though and he quickly knock this gate over. My step-grandfather who had recently joined the family through marriage and was unaware of the little hellion in the backyard stepped out the back door and found himself greeted by 12lbs of fury. We all heard the loud scream and saw him rush back into the house holding his hand with blood dripping from it. Apparently unaware he was tempting fate he reached down to pet Ruffles and was rewarded with a bite so strong it severed most of his thumbnail.
You would think that would be the end of Ruffles, but he stayed on to terrorize folks for years after that. Finally, one wintery day my father sat me down and explained that Ruffles had cancer and the vet was going to put him down. We did not bother with pretty lies like, “he went to a farm upstate”. No lying was better saved for opportunities it would benefit you financially (more on that another day).
After that we tried to be a cat household but that was a disaster and none of them lasted very long. I have only one truly memorable feline memory from my youth that will get its own post someday. Eventually my folks remembering the love of King decided we were ready for another German Shepard and from then on that was the only breed of dog we ever had.
We lived in the Raytown area at this point but my step-mom was from the Northland and we regularly visited the Metro North Mall off of Barry Road. Inside was a pet store on the West side of the lower level just across from the Topsy popcorn store. They had modular cages for the animals and half a dozen were facing outwards towards the mall walkway so shoppers would pass by and be drawn in by the adorable fluffy creatures pawing at them. I don’t remember much about the selection process but remember my eyes falling on one small Shepard puppy with a nearly all black coat and an incredibly friendly demeanor. We talked about the merit of each of the puppies there, but I kept going back to the small friendly black one. Finally, my parents yielded, and we drove home with our new family member sitting on my lap in the backseat. She was a little nervous about the bumping road but that just made her cuddle up closer to me.
Back at home we introduced our new friend to the house and my parents gave me the honor of naming her. I was an avid reader at this time and had just finished the Johanna Spyri novel “Heidi” so the decision was easy. I remember the nod of approval from my parents and the sense of satisfaction of the moment. Heidi was the perfect dog, loyal, kind and playful. I spent many long hours in the backyard with her and when I could sneak her inside we would cuddle up and watch TV together. After a couple of years my parents decided to get a second dog, a male German Shepard.
My father spent a lot of time looking through the paper and making phone calls. Finally he found a gentleman who breed German Shepherds that he liked and we made the long drive out to see them. I was too young to remember where the farm was but I do recall there being a small enclosure in front of the large white house with half a dozen of the cutest little bundles of fur bopping around and bouncing into each other. The largest and friendliest had a sable coat with an almost completely tan coat underneath and black tips on his fur giving him a beautiful appearance. This time my dad took the lead and made the selection. On the way home he announced that our newest member would be named Rommel.
Dad was a huge fan of war movies and the history associated with them so the name selection was obvious to mom and I. Erwin Rommel was the “Desert Fox” a German general and military strategist in Northern Africa during WWII. I obviously never met that Rommel but I remember thinking that they had nothing but “German” in common. Rommel grew up to be a small bear like beast with a kind demeanor and he quickly dwarfed Heidi in size but she didn’t let that stop her. She made it clear to him that she was the first and therefore in charge. They didn’t fight much but when they did Rommel usually yielded even though he could have overpowered the smaller, older Heidi.
Having two dogs, neither of whom were fixed, lead to a litter of puppies. While this hadn’t even crossed my kid mind it was my parents plan all along. My father explained that we wouldn’t be able to keep all of the puppies but if I agreed to help care for them I could keep one and he would give me a share of the money he earned by selling off the remainder. I was torn, “selling off” family members as I saw it seemed wrong but I also knew that we couldn’t keep a whole pack of dogs.
Finally the day came and I got first pick of the litter of 8 naming him Jedi to fit my ongoing fascination with sci-fi movies. Although we weren’t able to keep all of the puppies I named each of them (bad idea I know) and each got a name related to the Star Wars franchise except for one. The runt of the litter had a knack for getting out of any enclosure we put her in eventually earning her the name Houdini.
One by one the puppies found new homes and true to his word my father gave me $200 that was placed in my savings account at the Blue Ridge Bank. We had more puppies over the years with Heidi and Rommel and other breeding pairs but always German Shepherds. In the mid-90s we moved out south of town to a large plot of land and when the day finally came for Heidi to go to the great kennel in the sky we set aside a spot under her favorite tree on the south side of the property. She was eventually joined by Rommel, Jedi, Princess, Solo, Chewy, Leia and a few others that my parents had after I moved away.
As an adult I have never had a dog of my own. It’s a topic we’ve discussed many times but due to our frequency of travel I’ve always been talked out of it. Perhaps when I am retired but for now I am pleased to have a friendly kitty as my cuddle buddy.