By: Sheila Gaudet
I grew up loving animals. We had dogs, of various shapes and sizes, from the time I was born. I learned to ride horses at 6 and have asked for one for Christmas every year since then. We had a barn which is the only reason that my father allowed us to have a cat. He came home with a tiny kitten that was hardly bigger than the mice she was acquired to hunt when I was 6, the summer of the same year we had a litter of beagle puppies, of which we kept two. Bonnie, Clyde, and Fluffy all grew up together. That tiny kitten learned to come when you whistled, ran alongside our bikes with the dogs and generally held her own.
The dogs were subjected to being dressed up and other indignities that children foist upon them. For the record, beagles do not make good sled dogs a la “Call of the Wild.” If you tie them to the sled, and then they get away from you and run into the woods, you have to go crying to your mother who has to trek through the snow to find them wrapped around a tree and scared to death. This leads to unhappy moms and beagles. I had a dapple gray Welsh pony named General, who arrived as a gift from a great uncle. Unfortunately, he was a stallion who had never been broke to saddle. My parents were not horse people but I was the girl who took riding lessons starting at 6 and read every horse book in the school library. My dream was to find a horse like the Black Stallion series that I would have adventures with. General was not that horse, though I loved him like crazy. He was gelded in front of my mother’s kitchen window (I am not sure she ever fully recovered) and had a tendency to pin both of my parents against the stall when given the chance. However, when Fluffy had kittens, she had them in the stall with General, even though the other stall was empty and available. They were quite a pair during the winter. You would walk in the barn and his head would poke over the top of the stall door that the cat was curled up on, purring like a tiger.
Thus, there was never a question that when I had children, we would have pets. When Anthony was three, I bought a new house and promised him that we would get a dog when we settled in. The week after his third birthday we trekked to the shelter where there were so many young, healthy adoptable dogs that I knew we would have no problem finding one. Before we even got there, Anthony told me that he wanted a “big, orange dog.” I have no idea where this came from, but I figured when we got there I could tilt the preference to the dog I liked. We walked up and down the rows of the Southern Pines Animal Shelter (Hattiesburg, MS). The shelter handles almost 10,000 lost, stray, and unwanted animals per year. Well, Anthony walked along, talking to and petting dozens of dogs and then we found THE BIG ORANGE DOG. The dog was big (about 80 lbs) and kind of orange (he’s yellow, but to a three-year-old, close enough). The shelter couldn’t find his intake information so we know very little about him. He was listed as a lab mix, which I think was compassionate, he is also obviously part pit.
We took the “big guy” for a walk and he was friendly, if exhuberant, and obviously eager to have a boy. So he came home with us. We had him neutered and found out he was probably between 1-2 and healthy. He was named “Ranger” after the Red Power Ranger and soon became an integral part of our family. We put him through obedience training and also did some agility work with him-jumping hurdles, climbing the teeter-totter, and following commands. It was great fun and I even was able to include Anthony in a lot of the training. There is nothing more amusing than watching a pre-schooler boss around a dog that weighs twice as much as he did. They slept in the same bed, except for the nights I had to separate them because they wouldn’t go to sleep!
Now, it is 11 years later and I am happy to say that Ranger is still with us. At almost 14, he definitely moves slower. He has severe arthritis in his knees that makes it tough to climb into the boys’ beds and go up and down stairs. His stubbly little tail still wags and he’ll chase his toys when feeling frisky. He is healthy and happy except for his knees so we strive to keep him comfortable. Through the years we have had other dogs as well that we acquired through combining households when I married and the stray who showed up on my porch and never left- a three-legged, one-eyed border collie we named “Lucky” was with us til about age 13. He was the sweet one who hated the mail man and delivery people in general. He could also break out of almost any fence I put up which led to many interesting chases and encounters. Usually, he broke out of the fence to get to the front door or to chase the mail man. It was his one fault, he was perfect except for that. We have also had Velvet the Rabbit and Aubie the Cat.
Since I settled into this house and am home more, I thought it was a good time to look at getting a younger, more active dog. Ranger is, and always has been, extremely tolerant of the kids’ attention, but it’s harder for him now. Andrew, my eight year old, loves all animals and wants to play with Ranger all the time whether Ranger wants to play or not. Ranger has been used to having other dogs around and I think he’s missed his little “pack” since Lucky died. Anthony needs to run for soccer and is much more likely to do it if he has someone to do it with, a big dog would be perfect. And so the quest began. I made the mistake of involving Andrew in the search via Petfinder for a new dog to add to our family. We wanted an adult that needed to be adopted, but that would be young enough and big enough to participate in activities with the family. They had to be dog-friendly and get along with Ranger. There were dozens of dogs that met the criteria. So who did we end up with?
We are now the proud owners of “Dunkin”, the geriatric stray beagle. How did this happen?? Do not take a sensitive 8 year old through a tour of dogs that need homes. After seeing Dunkin’s picture and reading about him, I ended up with a small, blonde boys sitting on my bed with his piggy bank, offering to pay to adopt Dunkin because “he needs a good home and we can give him one.” So, I made my arguments. I showed him shiny “new” dogs and talked about fetch and Frisbee and long walks. My little boy could only picture the old dog that needed a home. So I contacted the shelter, arranged for a meeting (without the boy…I learned that lesson!), brought Ranger with me, and soon Dunkin arrived. He is a very sweet dog. He actually seems older than Ranger, though his estimated age is about 10. He makes grunting noises all the time…when he sleeps, when he walks, when he poops. Andrew is delighted with his new old dog. Both dogs go out for brief walks to the bus stop and to potty in the yard. I don’t worry about chasing them down or them taking off. They both need some supervision going up and down stairs to prevent falls. They seem to totter around together happily. They have to go out more often than Ranger used to and Dunkin and I are still figuring out a signaling system to reduce accidents.
While my goal was to give my son a playmate, I think he got something more. He is happy that he helped give an old dog a new forever home and I am proud of his unselfishness.