“My dog had puppies and they’re so cute. Do you want one?” I was in the sixth grade riding home on the bus, seated with my friend, Carolyn. And, Boy! Did I want one?!? You bet I did. I would ask my mama the minute I got off that bus.
Mama frowned and shook her head. She talked about responsibility and began listing all the problems that come with a puppy – peeing and pooping all over everywhere, chewing everything everywhere, and dog hair. Of course, I solemnly promised that I would be in charge of every single thing that had to do with a puppy – from training to feeding to minding its whereabouts. She was unconvinced. And so I waited until suppertime when I could present my case to Daddy. He listened and asked what Mama said. I ignored his question and proceeded to explain that I would be in charge, that it would be MY dog and my responsibility. He chuckled, Mama rolled her eyes, and he ended the discussion with the famous line, “We’ll see” which could mean anything and possibly nothing. So for the time being I had to live vicariously through my friend, Carolyn, who kept me posted on the progress of the puppies. She said they were too young to be taken away from the mother so there was more waiting to be done no matter what was ultimately decided. When I had given up hope one particular Saturday morning Daddy said I should get dressed and go for a ride with him. As it turned out he took me to my friend’s house to pick out a puppy. I can’t tell you what any of them looked like because the minute I saw MY puppy I was in love. He was a white ball of fluff with a black nose and black eyes. I named him after my favorite candy – Sugar Baby. My daddy harrumphed at the name but I persisted. I usually just called him Baby although my daddy mostly called him Bebo.
Baby turned out to be the best dog ever. Potty training him was a breeze – I only ever cleaned up a single puddle. And throughout his puppy years Baby never chewed up anything but bones. He seemed to understand that whatever belonged to the humans were not his to trifle with. Furthermore, he never jumped onto the furniture. Mama said it was a miracle. I think he was trying to stay in her good graces. And that little white dog also stayed miraculously white – no matter where he’d been or what he’d been doing. It was nothing short of amazing and probably made Mama think he was cleaner than other dogs – which probably gave him a leg up (if you’ll pardon the expression). Certainly it added to his reputation. We lived in the country and the only dogs kept in pens were my daddy’s bird dogs. Otherwise, dogs roamed free. They never got lost but crossing the road could be dangerous and we had lost a couple of dogs to this danger. Baby learned not to cross the road and it earned him years on the planet.
When it was time for me to live elsewhere the dog I’d had to beg my mama for suddenly became HER dog. Huh? How did that happen? But apartment life was no place for Baby so it was just as well. Mama, Daddy and Baby had learned to dance together. When it was mealtime Baby went outside the dining room but laid down where he could keep his eye on my daddy (who did not want a dog around the table begging at mealtime). The moment Daddy pushed his chair away from the table Baby rose to his haunches and waited for Daddy’s signal that he could enter the room. At a snap of Daddy’s fingers he trotted over to Daddy’s chair and hoped that there was a morsel left for him. Whether the treat came or not he was patient. If the treat was allowed there was another finger snap and he would sit up on his hind legs and wave his front paws for the reward. Whenever Mama got out her broom to sweep the kitchen and den he went directly to the backdoor so he could go to sit on the porch until she had finished sweeping. If there was leftover toast after breakfast Mama always took it out to the backyard for the birds. Baby never partook of it because Mama forbade him. It was just for the birds. So Baby just watched from the steps as the birds came to feast on it. However, at one point in time a very aggressive mockingbird moved into the backyard territory. The bird frequently dive bombed poor Baby. Eventually Baby had enough of the torture and when Mama put toast out for the birds Baby waited for Mama to go back into the house and then he trotted out to the toast, picked it up and promptly hid it under a large bush in another part of the yard. Baby knew he was not supposed to eat that toast but By Golly! he wasn’t going to allow that hateful mockingbird to have it! Mama was thoroughly amused by Baby’s behavior and found him all the more endearing.
When Baby came to live with us we lived out in the countryside of central North Carolina but during his lifetime my parents moved two different times. Their first move put them in a little village in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The property was situated on a small lot and there was not as much room to roam as Baby had been used to but, luckily, this little dog was easily adaptable. He took to his new home as if he’d lived there all his life. He quickly and easily became friends with all the neighbors. The next move was a few miles away but still in the beautiful Shenandoah. This house was in the country with lots of room to stretch, sniff and roam. That little dog was such a happy soul. He would have managed anywhere.
Baby was much beloved by every member of our family but he always let me know that he was really my dog. Whenever I came home to visit he came to sleep by my bed every night that I was there – no matter what house my parents lived in. In his heart he knew where he belonged.
Years passed. Baby began moving slower and lying longer in sunny spots. Mama let Baby out one morning and he disappeared. My family looked for him and called and whistled and clapped for him to come but he did not return. The neighbors saddled their horses and rode the fields looking for our beloved dog but there was never a sign of him. I was particularly grieved to think of that sweet old soul dying somewhere all alone. He was nearly 16 years old. In vain I tried to console myself by thinking that maybe it was just his time and he knew it innately. Like many other animals do, he left his pack and went off alone to die. Mama said that Baby had never been any trouble in life and maybe he just didn’t want to be any trouble in death either. Daddy said, “That dog didn’t die. Elijah came down from heaven in his chariot to get that dog because he was such a good boy.” I believe that very thing.