Dispatch From a Dog Lover

(By Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo
Monday, September 21, 2009

Our dad was never much of one for pets until very late in life, when a dog came along and beautifully filled the void left after so many of his peers passed on. Dogs have a way of rounding life out.

My life has gone to the dogs, and I am proud of it. I never had a pet growing up, and the twists and turns of my adult life can be measured in the company of the animals I keep. I've owned three dogs. None very bright, all very cute and each one a lifesaver in his or her own way.

My older daughter and I found our first dog, Benji, in 1977, tied to a gas pump at a filling station. Just a puppy, he was bedraggled, covered with scratches and blood from who knows what kind of life. We untied him, and he jumped into my daughter's arms. Under the dirt and the pain, he looked like the movie dog of the same name.

The attendants told us that as far as they knew, he was homeless, and they were calling the pound to pick him up. From that moment on, he was ours.

Benji became the light of our lives during a time I was living in Tulsa in an abusive marriage. I somehow knew that to start life over, one of the constants for my daughter and me had to be Benji. If he could make it from the depths, so could we. When I left the house in the middle of the night with only the clothes on my back, I needed a court order to get back in to retrieve clothing and some furniture. Those papers also named Benji as something valuable my daughter and I required.

I moved to Washington with Benji, and my daughter went off to college. When we arrived here, he spent his time wandering with me around Maryland. When I met my husband, Michael, Ben left me in the dust, as dogs are wont to do, because Michael took him for longer walks and fed him better treats. Benji's cancer was diagnosed about six years later, and we did everything humanly possible to keep him comfortable. When we had to finally put him down, I went to grief counseling.

We finally went to a Virginia rescue group and asked for a dog that looked nothing like Benji. The first dog they gave us, Delilah, was some sort of mix who didn't like people. The day the dog grabbed me by the leg and took me down was the day we brought her back, asking for a pet who was a lot more docile. We heard later that Delilah was on border patrol in Mexico.

We traded her for Duchess. Duchess was a Lab mix and had been abused in her first home. When we met her, she sat quietly by my side. She knew. We brought Duchess home. She ate my husband's record album covers and my shoes. She came when called and licked our faces.

After I had an emergency hysterectomy, she lay beside me for hours, allowing me to pet her and weep. She lived for a decade until a brain tumor took her life. The day she died, I cried for hours.

I told my husband we would need to wait at least a year until I was ready for another dog. The next day, I decided to peruse rescue dog sites "just to look" and saw a golden retriever puppy whose name was Michael. My husband and younger daughter groaned, and we drove to see him.

Turned out that puppy Michael had a cough and was not available, but there, in a pen, was a little black mutt. He was the size of Benji and had the face of Duchess. He was a mix of Labrador and basset and the wrong part of each.

He jumped into my arms and started wagging his tail. He licked my face, and I swear he was smiling. He was obviously the runt of the litter, and like my older daughter and me so long ago, needed to finally live in a safe and loving home.

My younger daughter named him Max, based on the way his tail was going at "maximum speed." We brought him home to Silver Spring. He chewed through albums, shoes, doggy beds and books. He romped and twirled and yipped and yapped just the way happy puppies do.

He's 4 years old now. He wasn't abandoned on a street like Benji or traumatized like Duchess. Like me, at last, he is a living thing at peace.

A few days ago, my daughter was very pleased about a bunch of different things. She looked at me smiling and said, "I'm so happy, if I were a dog I'd wag my tail."

Yes. And I guarantee Benji, Duchess and Max would wag right back.

-- Cheryl Kravitz, Silver Spring


© 2009 The Washington Post Company