I continue to go through many after-effects of my recent trips with Peter to some favorite places in western Indiana, then to the Smoky Mountains, my all-time favorite destination. One is that I seem to be suddenly in the market for a dog. And not just any dog, but the kind we used to have when I was a kid, a fox terrier. One was named Tinker, another was Half-Pint. They’re cute little guys with sweet personalities, and they don’t bark much. I hate yippy dogs that go nuts every time the mailman walks by.
I’m also not that fond of bigger dogs, and it seems like everyone’s got a behemoth these days. Fox terriers are my size, not too little, not too big.
Turns out I have a lot of prejudices or preferences about dogs; I despise “designer dogs,” pure-breeds with genetic weaknesses, which is all you see in New York. I want a dog from the pound, a rescue dog, an abandoned one who needs a home. If you’ve got hundreds of dollars to spend on a dog, send that money to the human food pantry instead; go bail out an inmate in dog jail and you’ll have a friend for life. Animals are not your status symbol.
The dogs I grew up with, both in town and on the farm, were working dogs, respected as well as loved, and well taken care of for both reasons. Grandma Clara had a collie mix named Gypsy, an outside dog who was mostly a watcher and companion. She had the run of the place, a couple hundred acres, and she wasn’t always stuck at the house. But if she was close by and an unknown car pulled into the lane, she was there, barking and asking, “Who are you?” She wasn’t threatening the way some dogs can be, and she learned not to chase cars on the highway, but only to guard the house; she was better than a doorbell. And of course she always recognized us, so then her bark was saying, “Hi, you’re back!” We loved our Gypsy. She lived to a good old age.
Fox terriers were the dogs of choice on a lot of farms back then, because they’re smart, athletic, good hunters and great companions; now there are a lot fewer farms and foxies have fallen out of fashion. But they’re what my parents liked, and a couple of weeks ago I fell in love with one again.
Peter and I were visiting our photographer/cop friend Quentin in Lafayette. Mr. and Mrs. Q have a foxer, and oh man, is he sweet. He’s older, not as frisky as he once was, but he and I took an instant liking to each other. Quentin said that was unusual for the dog in his older years, he usually avoids the stimulation of meeting someone new; and it’s become unusual for me in adulthood to bond with an unknown pet. But somehow we hit it off the minute we met, and I can’t stop thinking about his breed. Terriers are ideal dogs.
In young adulthood before this phase in my life, I wasn’t fit to keep a dog; didn’t always make enough money for all his bills, I worked long hours, wasn’t home enough, and then I had a very sick lover to take care of. But now here I am, with time on my hands, six rooms and a yard to run around in; maybe adopting a dog makes sense.
Some other thought-streams are running in my head: I’ve seen the Smokies again, so my spirit is fulfilled. After two good trips I’m ready to stay at home a good while, and able to look after another creature. I’ve got a whole big house and no one else around, so maybe it’s time.
Fox terriers are not demanding; that’s the outstanding them about them compared to other dogs. And being pack animals, they love to bond with the leader. Besides, they’re impossibly cute.
So I think I could accomodate a foxy at this time in my life. He and I could grow old together. I probably have enough years left to see a puppy through his lifespan, which is no small consideration. Or I could take an older dog like Q’s; dogs need homes, people to be around, someone to buy the food and see the water dish is fresh. I could do that.
One other prejudice: I want a male dog. All our dogs were boys when I was a kid, and males are what I know. Their behavior isn’t that different from females’, and a girl who’s been fixed doesn’t turn into a yowling bitch in heat; but still, boys are what I know.
Maybe it’s time. Maybe I’m ready to retire and not do much but take the dog to the park and watch him run. Maybe I can teach him to catch a Frisbee; maybe my arm will get tired of throwing before he gets tired of jumping and catching.
Maybe I just want someone who’ll lick my face no matter what I look like. That’s probably it.
But there are two shelters now that know I’m on the lookout for a male fox terrier, and I wouldn’t be surprised to bring one home soon. Heaven is full of animals, you know; they go there direct without stopping at purgatory. This was one of God’s easier decisions, while the humans have to face elaborate vetting.
If you were St. Peter would you cross-examine this guy, or just wave him through and hold him while he licked your face?
If you can’t see the soul in this little boy, you’re going straight to hell.++