“Please can I have a dog while I’m still a kid?” whined our nine-year-old daughter back in the late 1990s. She’d been leaving notes on our pillows, saving every cent, and talking about dogs nonstop since our visit to her aunt’s farm outside Tallahassee where four dogs entertained her for several days. Once home in Virginia, Megan began a relentless daily campaign to convince us we needed a dog, asking us every single day if we could get one. For months, she saved her money and even stopped buying Beanie Babies.
There were plenty of reasons for the mom of the house to object to a dog, the main one being that I worked 4 days a week with an hour commute. The children were in after-school care. No one was home four days a week for 9 to 10 hours a day. I tried to talk her into other lower-maintenance animals, but she would not be distracted from her obsession.
For most of my life, I was a confirmed cat person, having acquired my first Siamese kitten at age 11. Years later, moving out of the college dorms, I acquired another Siamese kitten who divided her time over the years between me and my parents. When we lived in Africa, we did not have pets, and once we had children in the mid-80s, we didn’t see any need for additional dependent creatures. However, children have other ideas.
Finally, Bruce and I decided independently that we had to find a dog for Megan. We were both tired of listening to her pleading, reading the notes, and hearing her complain that she was the only kid in the entire universe who did not have a dog! So, we caved. The requirements were: no puppy, no expensive purebred dog, had to come from the local shelter, must be at least a year old, and a medium-sized dog — no big ones, no tiny ones. Megan agreed to everything.
Bruce made a reconnaissance visit to the local shelter to check out the possibilities prior to taking Megan there on a Saturday morning. He identified a border collie who he thought looked promising. We knew nothing about dog breeds. We walked into the shelter behind a man leading a medium sized white dog on a leash. We waited patiently for him to explain to the receptionist that he was giving up his dog because he traveled often and because his invalid wife could no longer manage the year-old active dog. This dog had all his shots, was neutered, and house-trained. He was beautiful, quiet, observant, and appeared to be a bit intimidated by the shelter environment. We talked to the receptionist as the white dog was led away to a cage. Then we went into a room and an attendant brought in the border collie Bruce had seen the day before. He seemed to be a nice dog, but very jumpy. Megan fell in love with him immediately. I suggested maybe we should look at the other dogs in the shelter, so we did.
We found the white dog in his cage sitting quietly and looking sad. The sign said “American Eskimo dog” which meant nothing to us since we knew nothing about dog breeds. Did I already mention that? When the attendant brought him into the room, he hopped up on the bench next to Bruce and put his head on Bruce’s leg, while Megan petted him. He seemed at ease with us, calm, and did not growl. We looked at a few other dogs but kept coming back to the white dog’s cage. His name was Fang, according to the sign, suggesting Jack London’s book White Fang. He looked like a husky to me, but I knew nothing about dog breeds, as mentioned.
The shelter staff did the paperwork and put a temporary leash around his neck so we could take him to our car. I wondered if he would go with us, but he seemed willing, hopped into the back seat, and plopped down next to Megan. Grinning ear to ear, she kissed the top of Fang’s head and talked constantly to him as we drove to PetSmart for equipment. Megan happily slapped her savings on the counter to buy dog food, collar, leash, harness, bowls, toys, and a book about American Eskimo dogs.
Part of the dog negotiations with Megan included her agreement to sleep in her own room at night if the dog slept there, too. For years, Megan came into our room at night, dragging her lambskin, a pillow, and a blanket, to set up camp next to our bed. On Fang’s first night in our house, he settled down next to her bed, we closed the door, and there he stayed. She spent the entire night in her own room for the first time in years.
Both children fell in love with Fang instantly and were good about taking him for walks, exercising him with ball-throwing and running, and feeding and brushing him – for a couple of weeks. The children had school and other activities, so as the mom, I assumed more dog care. He had to stay in the garage or basement while we were at work and school, four days a week, although being beyond the puppy stage, he was able to wait until we returned to go outside. Still, I felt guilty leaving him for so long each day. Some months later, I learned that my job had been eliminated. No more commuting! I decided to consult part-time from home, and Fang and I became constant companions.
Within a year or so, we wanted to get Megan a twin-sized bed frame since she had outgrown her youth-size bed. Megan wanted a loft bed and insisted that it had to have steps that Fang could climb to get up to her mattress. We began a search for such a bed and found one eventually, although it was expensive. However, it was the only bed with steps instead of a ladder. We got the bed for her, Fang climbed the steps easily, and Megan continued to spend nights in her own room with her dog.
Over the years, Fang became my third child. He consumed doctors’ appointments, baths, and properly-managed food and water. He needed attention, exercise, walks, brushing, and playing. Eskies are very protective of their families, bark a lot, and defend their property. They like to be with their family and follow their people from room to room around the house. They don’t like to be outside alone; they want their people with them. I confess I enjoyed that behavior.
Fang was jumpy in groups of people, unless he was on his own territory. If we had people over, he mingled well, if there were no young children. We had to familiarize Fang with Megan and Andy’s friends. Fang was a very smart dog and learned quickly who our friends were. He especially loved our next-door neighbors and when we were outside in the yard, and he saw them, he would race at top speed over to their yard to greet them and be petted.
Fang was a good traveler and vacation companion, sometimes over very long distances, such as Virginia to Florida, and once on a two-week trip to Vermont and back. He seemed happy just to be with us wherever we went. He liked car rides, so I often took him with me when I ran errands, if the outside temperature was not too hot. In summers, we had to make sure he did not get overheated. His thick heavy coat of beautiful white fur served him well in winter. When we moved to Wisconsin, he enjoyed romping in snow, especially during snowstorms.
Fang’s 10 years with us coincided with the decade when I mostly stayed home so that I could better manage our children and their issues through middle and high school and look after my elderly mother in her final five years of life. My mother and the dog were devoted friends. It was a risky period of my life – those years from my mid-40s to mid-50s. Fang was there as my constant companion through losing my job and my mother, moving from Virginia to Wisconsin, launching two children out of the house into their adult lives, and through the symptoms of my own medical conditions.
And then he died.
At the age of 11, he got cancer. After surgery to remove a tumor from his hind leg, he recovered well for a few weeks while Megan came home after her first year at college. They romped as they always had.
She left for a summer job and within a week after her departure, Fang began to suffer badly from pain. The vet said the disease had returned and we decided to put him down since the proposed treatments were too draconian. Losing our beloved dog was an exceedingly difficult experience for us, and it was a first for me. I had never felt so close to an animal before.
The vet and an assistant came to our house for the procedure outside in our yard on a beautiful day – May 18, 2007. Andy, Bruce and I held him as he passed. We all cried; hugged each other and the vet and the assistant, and then faced the empty house. The first day without him, I spent the entire day cleaning out our garage to cope with my grief. The constant movement, lugging stuff, sweeping, and reorganizing were all distracting and satisfying at the same time. I kept looking for him, stretched out in the sun, as he would have been, but he was not there. I still think often of him, imagining how he would react to different situations, particularly as we retired and moved back to Virginia.
Friends who have had many dogs throughout their lives maybe do a better job of coping with the coming and going of their canine companions than I did with the loss of mine. They are convinced there has to be another dog. Fang was the only dog I’d ever become attached to, and I missed him so badly that I simply could not imagine acquiring another animal. Six months after Fang’s passing, I returned to full-time work leaving behind a dog-less empty house. Working again after Fang’s death was a good distraction from missing him.
Now in retirement, I ignore my grown children’s hints that we should get a dog. It’s been 13 years since Fang’s passing and every year in May, I remember losing him. For the moment, we still enjoy the exhilarating freedom of a household without dependent creatures. Before covid, we could wander about with no schedules, no requirements, no need to be home to let the dog out. There are no vet bills, no dogfood attracting bears, no middle-of-the-night barking in response to visits from the local wildlife passing through our forest. When and if the time comes for acquiring another dog, I am confident that I will know the situation when I see it. A dog will make its way to me if and when I again need a canine companion. Just like Fang did.