It was just the four of us living together in my family of origin. I wish I had another sibling but most all of our cousins, aunts and uncles, only had two children as well. No living things on four legs joined us in the den or welcomed us home after school or work. No dog to beg for scraps or to take to the vet for shots. No one can certainly call goldfish, a pet, and they always seemed to die before one could get emotionally attached.
Ants don’t cut it either. One night, the ants streamed out of my ant farm while I was sleeping, and the next morning I got into a lot of trouble for not squaring all pieces of wood, glass and dirt when assembling it.
When anyone asked my older brother if we had any pets, he would smile and say, “yeah, my little brother”. Ha ha. Friends next door and around the block on Robin Hood Road had a black Labrador and he was part of the family. But I knew the chances of my parents buying us a dog were slim to none.
The closest we came to having a dog was a snapping turtle, but you can’t walk a snapping turtle down the street or cuddle with it. You don’t even see his head most of the time. You get too close and you’re liable to lose a finger! My brother captured it from a swamp, and carried it home in a large cardboard carton, quite pleased with his achievement. It was left outside on the brick patio screened porch adjacent to our house, but my mother made us return it to the swamp the next day. She didn’t care for it, and she’s the one who ran the house. I can hardly blame her.
Our cousins in the next town over from us had a dog named Mixie that barked and jumped on mom whenever we visited. We visited them practically every Sunday. Mixie, a mixed breed, never quite got adjusted to her, or maybe it was the other way around. Mixie was a harmless scruffy mutt that just wanted to be petted and given a dog biscuit. Then she would saunter back to her corner and watch, sleep and dream.
Mixie was given her name because she was a mixed breed, but also because my uncle owned a busy liquor store and enjoyed his daily mixed drink, especially martinis. A number of my uncles owned liquor stores in the area.
My cousins who were the same age as me enjoyed Mixie and played with her, but I don’t know if they ever took her out for a walk. I know I never saw them walk her. But she was an accepted member of the family. She jumped in the back of the station wagon and went on rides with the family to New Hampshire and Bath, Maine too, my aunt’s childhood home.
Maya is my older son’s dog. She’s a basenji. The notable and attractive feature of Maya is she doesn’t bark much at all, nor does she shed. She’s low maintenance. In this regard, my mother would probably have approved. Maya is always well-behaved. She is sleek, with brown and white hair, and a tail that curves up. When a new person enters the space, she does not jump, she does not bark. Whenever we’re visiting I walk Maya around the neighborhood. I give her a good workout. She will also jump up on the bed, lie at my feet and hang out with me. She’s a silent partner; we’re buddies.
There’s also a large grassy field right next door. Basenjis like Maya love to run and she is allowed to run free off her leash, as long as my son is with her. She needs the fresh air and large expanse of land too. She thrives on the freedom. Occasionally she will throw herself down on the grass and shake back and forth as if she has an itch. We don’t know what that’s all about, but she seems to enjoy it. Maya likes to sleep a lot as well. To each his own! Got for it!
Martha is Paul McCartney’s English sheep dog that he wrote about in his 1968 song by the same name, Martha My Dear : “Martha, my dear … You have always been my inspiration …. Please, be good to me … Martha, my love … Don’t forget me …. Martha, my dear.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t include Daisy, my younger son’s pit bull, that lived with him on the second floor of an inexpensive walk up two-bedroom apartment in a factory town. Daisy was not one to mess around with; no one ever challenged her about anything. She was aggressive, always on leash and was a good home protector. Calling her Daisy instead of a name like Butch or Rocky I found hilarious.
And then there was Shayna, a collie-husky mix of a dog whom we had in the 1980s. She was a medium-sized dog, kind of handsome you could say, but not the sharpest tack in the drawer. She was our first child before our son was born. Shayna was a little too rough with our infant son and had to be given away to a farm in Western Massachusetts because of his behavior. Shayna was not the cuddly type. She was the right size for my tastes, but she lacked the warmth of Maya or Martha. I used to take her out for walks but she pulled me more than I pulled her.
I like the idea of a dog, especially one that is cuddly, house broken and very friendly. One that is well-behaved, doesn’t jump and doesn’t beg. I understand four-legged dogs and even cats can be great companions. I just can’t get used to the idea of organizing my life around caring for any dog or cat, taking him/her out in the. snow, ice, rain or sleet. That wouldn’t be consistent with my being off the hook.