Much to my mother’s dismay, my first word was “doggy.” As a child I used to spend time in the puppy whelping box of our Labrador Retriever named Crackers, who we adopted from a family who bred her constantly. Crackers only let me near the puppies. I played with them often.
In my not yet thirty years of life, I’ve had three of my own dogs, in addition to family pets. Happy, my first dog, was a Jack Russell Terrier, a Christmas gift when I was seven years old. My family had always had Labs, so we weren’t familiar with the ways of a terrier. Happy was cute (as terriers are) with a black spot on her side and a tri-colored face. As she grew from a puppy to an adult dog, she became independent and got right down to business. “Independent” is dog code for pain in the @ss. Any time you read about a breed and the writer describes the breed as “independent” they’re trying to put a nice spin on bad behavior. Happy didn’t listen. It was her mission in life to kill all rodents. She destroyed the backyard, wouldn’t heel when taken for a walk (she pulled me all over the place, trying to sniff and dig every hole she could find), and knew the word “mice.” She was the best mouser we had. Happy was a killer, and she was darn good at it.
Terriers have a lot of personality and character. Though she was christened “Happy” she had times when she was downright cranky. In winter, Happy slept under the covers with me to keep warm. When morning came and it was time to go out, she would growl when my mother said, “Happy, do you want to go outside?” She never snipped, bit, or showed any signs of aggression towards people or even dogs (her animosity was toward rodents), her growl in the morning was her way of saying that she needed coffee before getting up.
I loved Happy very much, but we learned that terriers were annoying in their “independent” ways. When Happy passed (she died in her sleep), and I wanted/needed another dog, we didn’t look at terriers.
Trinity was my second dog, a 14 week old Shetland Sheepdog puppy, a tri-colored (hence the moniker of “Trinity) little spitfire. Where Happy was independent and on a mission, Trinity just wanted to be with me. She followed me everywhere, chased me when I ran, and loved to do what I asked of her. Shelties are opposites of terriers. They’re sheepdogs, so they like to work and listen to their owners, and love to please. Trinity was sweet, dainty, and polite. She drank her water quietly, never left a watery mess on the floor, and liked to stay clean. She had a certain way of doing things, a princess-like manner which got her whatever she wanted, while making you think it was your idea. She had our Doberman trained to do her bidding, even as a puppy. Trinity was sweetly manipulative.
Shelties are often described as aloof, but my sheltie didn’t get the memo. Trinity never met someone she didn’t like, and more than once she charmed total strangers into loving her by sight alone. She had a spring in her trot, kept her skunkish tail high in the air when she moved, and wore a smile. Being alive was a pretty cool thing. She was loyal to a fault, always came when called, and had to know where I was at all times. When walking, she could be ahead of me, but constantly looked over her shoulder to make sure I was still there. After work, or during my lunch hour, I took her to play ball. She’d carry the ball to the park, tail held high, sometimes off leash, as happy as could be. Finding a dog-sitter when I traveled was always easy. People loved having Trin stay with them while I was gone. She was always delightful.
Even now I refer to Trinity as World’s Greatest Dog. She was sweet, loyal, charming, clean, and nearly perfect. She wasn’t one for cuddling (she was too busy), but she always made me feel loved and appreciated, greeting me with affection whenever I came home, ecstatic to go with me wherever I went. And when chronic renal failure took her away from me, I was devastated. A Grand Canyon size crack was left in my soul, and there are days when I still mourn her loss.
But I’ve always had dogs in my life, they’re necessary to me. So after Trinity moved on to the next place (where I’m sure I’ll see her again), I wanted a new dog to help fill the hole that Trinity left in me. I thought I wanted a dog opposite of Trinity, so I wouldn’t be reminded of the beloved pet I’d just lost. Both Happy and Trinity were girls, and I’d never had a boy. So I thought, why not this time I get a little dude?
Riley is my current dog, and the opposite of Trinity in every practical way. When we were looking for puppies, we found a sheltie breeder in our area who had gorgeous, well bred dogs. I told Jan of my recent loss and what I wanted in a new puppy. She recommended to me the runt of a litter, a small little survivor who just wouldn’t quit. There were a few times, Jan said, that she thought this little guy wouldn’t make it, but he just kept going, refusing to be taken down because of his size. I said I’d have him.
He was certainly the runt; he was two weeks behind his siblings in size, but not in attitude. Riley never knew he was small. He was scrappy, energetic, and shockingly strong for such a little bloke. When he walked and ran, his little tail swished back and forth like a metronome. He had so much energy to burn, but (as a puppy) only so much battery power. Riley loved running and racing. To burn off that energy, I took him to a high school track and ran him 100 meters at a sprint. He thought that was the coolest thing.
Unlike Happy and Trinity, I got Riley well after my school years and was fortunate to work from home, so Riley spent all his time with me, which spoiled him. He played with me when was awake, then slept on my lap while I worked at my computer. He had an annoying way of howling, his little lips pursed in an “O”, head cocked to the moon, when he wanted something, either to go outside, to play, or just to get my attention.
Boys are not nearly as clever as girls. Trinity, World’s Greatest Dog, was potty-trained in under two weeks or less. She figured it out quick. Riley…not so much. At first I thought he was just an idiot, but all other dog people confirmed that boys were just slower learners than girls, especially about the pee-pee issue.
Riley is not polite. Riley is not clean. Where Trinity would dab the corners of her mouth after a meal or a drink of water, Riley drops his food everywhere, churns his water bowl with his excessive saliva, and sloshes it all over the floor, leaving little spittle marks throughout the kitchen. Where Trinity would avoid stepping in mud or water (ew, so dirty!) Riley runs into it. Trinity was made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Riley’s made of rails, snails, and puppy dog tails.
Perhaps boys are slower learners, and my Riley is messier than average, but what I have learned from him is how affectionate he is. Riley is a big mama’s boy, probably because he’s spent nearly every waking hour with me, but also because he’s a boy. Unlike female shelties, male shelties are sweeter and more affectionate toward their people. All Riley needs to be happy is to be with me. He’ll go anywhere I’ll go.
There’s a prayer that goes something like this: “Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am.” It’s true of all dogs. They look up to us like we’re perfect beings. They see no fault in us, they always love us, they just want to be a part of our lives.
This is so true of Riley. No creature on earth has ever loved me as much as this little boy of mine. He goes everywhere with me, even when he’s not required to. He’s there in the bathroom when I am, he sleeps on my feet while I’m working (it took months to break him of the lap-sleeping habit), he snuggles with me at night, he sits in my lap when I drive, he’s there with me when I’m motoring to my sailboat in the dinghy. If I’m separated from him while I’m taking care of my horse, Riley is there barking at me on the other side of the fence, upset that he’s not with me. He watches me as I do my chores, constantly there, seeing what I’m doing. He wants to play with me, be with me, love me, all the time.
Dogs are a splendor, and in my opinion, one of God’s greatest gifts to human beings. They keep us company, bring us joy, shower us with unconditional love and affection in ways humans cannot. They love perfectly, they are the best friends we’ll ever have. They always listen, they never complain, and all they need and want is to make us happy. What a wonderful purpose in life: to love and be loved.