People often ask me about my email address – firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s no great mystery. Over the years I’ve somehow, through no conscious design on my part, accumulated a succession of the stupidest canines that have ever tumbled from a litter.
Now don’t get me wrong – each has, in his or her own way, been imminently loveable. They’ve made me laugh when I’ve really needed a smile. During times when I’ve been seriously ill, they’ve been loyal companions – staying by my side, licking my feverish brow. One proved remarkably adept at eating the carpenter ants that would try to invade my home every Spring.
But here’s the thing – I grew up reading those magnificent dog stories by Jack London, Jim Kjelgaard, Fred Gipson, Sheila Burnford, Armstong Sperry, and Eric Knight.
Legendary dogs like Big Red, Savage Sam, Uri, Buck, Lassie, Lad.
These were dogs that any kid would be proud to roam with. They’d fight bears, wolves, and the wilderness to protect their masters. The wonderful Labrador and Bull Terrier in “The Incredible Journey” crossed the vast Canadian Forest to be reunited with their loved ones. Lassie rescued a basket of kittens from a burning barn. Uri in “Call It Courage” boarded an outrigger and traveled halfway across the Pacific with his boy. Heck, Superman’s dog Krypto managed to save the entire earth when it was shrunk to the size of a Cocoa Puff.
All of these dogs had deep wells of common sense, an innate understanding of human and animal behavior, and jaw-dropping courage. I loved each one and longed for a canine that would be the same type of wise companion.
But I look out my front window and see my dog Pebbles rolling in ecstasy on a possum that’s been alternately baking and soaking on the roadside for the last week. I’ll yell at her to stop and give her a bath, but there’s no doubt that once she’s sweet-swelling and out of my sight she’ll make her way back to the roadkill.
My fat dog Olive hid in my closet when a chipmunk got loose in the house. A chipmunk!
A bear browsing through my garbage wasn’t even noticed by Sweep as she patrolled the property. I don’t know if you’ve been around a bear, but they have a rank, unmistakable odor that travels with them like an invisible cloud. And this big bruin was not dainty as he scattered garbage around the front yard. Sweep swept within 20 feet of him without breaking her stride.
My whole life, it’s been like that. These clueless dogs, void of the canine virtues celebrated in popular culture, somehow work their way into my heart and proceed to dig up the yard and ruin the furniture.
I can still enjoy those fictional dogs through the Fontana Regional Library System, though. If you’d like to join them on their adventures, check out Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard, Lassie, Come Home by Eric Knight, Call of the Wild by Jack London, Old Yeller by Fred Gipson, Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry, and The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford.
If you’re looking for a true-life dog story, check out Tarra and Bella by Carol Buckley. It’s only 32 pages and it recounts the unlikely friendship between a stray dog and a lonely retired circus elephant.
“Tarra and Bella” is the perfect distillation of everything I got out of those childhood stories. Bella is wise, courageous, and imbued with a great heart. Somehow she found Tarra, and the duo, through some alchemy of souls, became inseparable.
I hate to say it, but I’m pretty sure Sweep wouldn’t have noticed an elephant.