Most were hunting dogs. There was one cattle dog, one lapdog, one neurotic dog and one wild pup who never got tamed. I’ll never forget a single one of them.
Buster, my grandparents’ Boston terrier, was one of the first dogs I remember. The black-and-white snub-nosed dog snored loudly and had a disagreeable odor, but he was as happy-go-lucky as anyone you’ve ever known.
As a small boy I relished every moment I could spend with Buster. I can still hear his toenails clicking excitedly on the linoleum floor when we’d come to visit.
One Sunday winter morning I stumbled into the kitchen where Buster slept. His rug and bowls were there, but my little friend was not. Grandma was ready for my question when I asked, “Where’s Buster?”
Grandma led me by my hand outdoors and into the frigid, dimly lit garage. Inside a small cardboard box, on top of the workbench, was Buster, all curled up and lying very still. Grandma assured me that Buster was in heaven. I petted his cold, stiff body and cried. We both did.
The wild one I called Wolf. He was a scared little pup who looked very much like a wolf, and I suppose I wanted him to be a wolf. My father had spotted him at the junk pile in our woods.
After finishing the milking chores, I ran the half- mile to the junk pile. I circled it on my hands and knees until I located a likely entrance, wiggled in and grabbed a fistful of neck fur. Not once did the tiny pup growl or snap at me as I carried him home, but I knew he was petrified.
I tried in vain to tame him; some dog breeds take a while to warm up to people. So I kept him leashed for a while in the haymow. I’d visit often, talk to him, give him food and try to pet him. He’d always shrink to the end of his rope and stare at me in silence. I wanted so badly to be his friend, but he just didn’t have it in him.
Kip, a jet-black Irish setter-springer cross with a wisp of white on his chest, was my pal when I was a teenager. He loped tirelessly alongside the tractor as I made round after round, doing whatever fieldwork Dad had assigned me. Wherever I went, he went.
That wonderful dog rode on or in every vehicle we had on the farm. He even rode on the snowmobile when I drove to the river to spear pike. Once there, he’d sleep on the fish house floor, occasionally growling if he saw a fish.
My current canine companion is a Chesapeake retriever. He can leap more than 15 feet from the end of a dock. He loves kids. He finds my hat when I ask him and stares at me for minutes at a time, seemingly gauging my mood. He’s playful, dependable and protective. He’s a good dog.
Outdoor writer Gene Hill knew what he was talking about when he wrote, “Whoever said you can’t buy happiness forgot little puppies.”