All puppies are born cute and adorable. But Rascal, an Australian shepherd mix, was down right handsome. It was obvious why the neighbor’s little girl picked him out of the litter of abandoned pups. Those floppy ears and tiger stripes would have melted any child’s heart, not to mention that fluffy, snow-white chest to rake their fingers through.
We had a dog years ago. A sweet little chihuahua we named Peanut. He lived a short, seventeen years. When he died, I didn’t want another dog. It hurts too much when they die.
Then there was Rascal.The puppy next door the little girl took home and hugged and played with for a day or two, then tossed him aside like a broken toy.
Eventually, he ended up in our yard. Then camping out on the front porch. Then playing with us and the grandkids in the house.
Maybe he’d have gone back home had we not encouraged him to stay with a comfy bed and warm, fuzzy blanket, a food, and water bowl, and toys to play with. Maybe he’d have eventually wandered off, found a girlfriend and made lots of handsome babies instead of hanging around and wriggling his way into our hearts.
But I wasn’t ready to commit. I kinda liked that part-time dogie thing. You know, the part where you spoil them and send them back home. No messing up the house, chewing furniture, and pooping on the floor. No Vet bills. No responsibility. We’ll just let him in for a few hours each night, then let him back out again to sleep in his bed on the porch or go back home or find another porch to sleep on.
But he never went back home. He thought he was home.
Now what? He was getting older and bigger and started running off the porch into our other neighbor’s yard and annoying them and their dog. But he doesn’t belong to us. We can’t box him in on the front porch or keep him in the house. That would be steeling. Besides, I didn’t want a full-time dog. I liked things the way they were. Why ruin a good thing with a dirty little word like commitment?
But I don’t like tormenting my neighbors, so we had one of two choices to make: send him home for good or ask if we could have him.
They gave him to us. Just like that! As if they forgot he was their dog to begin with.
If they only knew what a great dog they had given up. How eager he was to please, how he never chewed the furniture or peed or pooped on the floor, ever. Had they given him half a chance, they would have realized how smart and obedient he was and how easy he was to train.
However, Rascal had one fault that nearly drove me nuts. He was extremely, aggressively territorial. Meaning, if he didn’t know you, you didn’t get in the house, nor would you be brave enough to try. Over-night, guests had to wean their way through the front door by walking him on a leash away from the house and giving him time to get familiar with them. Then everyone was happy and could walk into the house in one piece. But once our quests went outside, Rascal wouldn’t let them back in.
Children, however, had magic powers. Even if Rascal had never seen them before, they were jubilantly welcomed with a wagging tail and lots of slobbery kisses.
Rascal was a pampered house dog; we never, ever let him run loose. But sometimes he’d break his leash chasing a rabbit or a squirrel when we’d let him out, but he always came back home except for that one time. Frantic, my husband, Buck, drove around the neighborhood looking for him while I stayed home praying and bawling my eyes out. A million what if’s terrorized my mind: What if he gets hit by a car? What if some mean person shoots him? What if somebody picks him up and drives off with him?
Buck finally came back home, but Rascal was nowhere to be found.
The next morning before leaving for work, Buck called once more from the edge of the woods and was answered back with a familiar bark. While chasing a rabbit through the woods, Rascal’s broken leash got wrapped around a twig, and he sat there all night long. My prayers were answered. God kept him safe and helped us find him before it was too late.
After eight short years, Rascal suddenly became deathly ill. Saying goodbye to him was like cutting a chunk out of my heart.
We dug a grave under a tree in the backyard. We wrapped his lifeless body in a warm blanket with his favorite blue bone. We covered him with dirt and piled rocks on top. We knelt on the ground. We couldn’t stop crying. Not that day. Not the next day. Not the days and weeks that followed.
I was done. No more dogs for me. It hurts too much when they die.
But Buck wasn’t done. As much as I tried to cheer him up, he missed Rascal. With every fiber of his being, every beat of his heart, he missed his beloved dog but longed for another to fill the hole in his soul.
Although I was ready to move on and couldn’t wrap my heart around the idea of having another dog and going through all this again, I caved in to my husband’s sadness. So on his birthday we went to the animal shelter, picked out a sad-looking dog and fell in love all over again.
Bella’s a beautiful greyhound mix, sweet and lovable and the strangest dog we’ve ever had. After five years, all that happy inside her still explodes when we feed her, when we let her out, when we let her back in and when we come in from being outside for five minutes. She’s as clumsy as an ox, stubborn as a mule, and does everything on her own terms. She won’t lay down till she’s covered from head to toe, and sleeps, so soundly, it’s hard to wake her up.
Two years ago, we rescued Pepper, our sweet, prissy little dachshund lab mix that was abandoned with fifteen other dogs and starving to death. She was a dead puppy walking, and we didn’t think she would survive the week. Funny how a visit to the vet and a little food and lots of love and attention can bring a dying animal back to life.
There will never ever be another Rascal. He was one of a kind. But Bella and Pepper have filled the gaping hole in our heats. They make us happy. They make us laugh out loud. They fill our hearts with love.