Dog Days of August

dogs 0819
I always figure, if dogs are wet and muddy (and smell bad), they’ve probably had a great time. How do you think we did on this trip?

I saw this the other day, but I don’t remember if it was a poster, bumper sticker or t-shirt: “I don’t always talk about my dogs. Sometimes I’m asleep.” And Phoebe, one of the tellers at my bank (who used to be Little Phoebe who lived down the street from me), has a poster at her desk that says “This person has gone ___ days without talking about dogs.” Usually the number is zero.

I totally don’t get people like this. You’ll never hear me talking about dogs. I’m not even sure I like them very much. You can ask Oz if you don’t believe me.

Peg Furey, now she liked dogs. Peg and Jim and their daughter Connie used to live in the house that now belongs to my friend Carol, and Peg was one of the many people who helped my dog Reprieve to a long life, even on the days I was ready to kill her.

Reprieve (the black dog in the picture above, along with Bingo Barry and Misha and Chaos Baril) was my first foundling. My previous dog, Tag-Along (best dog in the world) I acquired at age 12 from the Bartsch family, and she and I came of age together.

One of the great unfairnesses of life is that dogs age at a different rate than their people, and after 16 great years, when I was still relatively young but Taggie was old, we had to say good-bye to our friendship.

A few months later, I was thinking it might be time to take up with another companion. My editor at the paper, Evan (who currently lives up the street from me), was set to go to the city pound to take a picture of a dog needing a home when Bruce Benson rolled up to the newspaper in a shiny sports car, wanting to be interviewed without an appointment.

Mr. Benson recently finished a very distinguished tenure as president of the University of Colorado, but back then he was chair of the state Republican party. Evan gave me a choice: interview the politico, or go take pictures of the dog. Like that was even a choice.

I had the picture developed (which is what we did way back then), and then left it on the corner of my desk for a few days. Finally I called the animal control officer and asked, “What if, instead of putting her picture in the paper, I just take the dog?”

That might have been a mistake. Reprieve —

[My dad’s friend Ralph Johnson, who taught English at Western, was the only one to ask if it was a reprieve for her or for me. Answer: both, probably.]

— whom I always thought I’d call Ree, but it turned out I needed that second syllable, was a handful. And a half. She liked to run. And go adventuring. She needed far more stimulus than I was providing, and one of the people who offered that stimulus was Peg.

Peg, a lawyer, worked from an office behind her house, so she was home a lot and let Reprieve come over to spend time with her and her dogs. Some days all of them would go horseback riding. Peg once lost Reprieve while out riding, and looked across the valley she was riding above, only to see Reprieve running on the other ridgeline.

Did I say she was a handful? And a half?

Whereas subsequent dogs have been content with walks around or near Gunnison, Reprieve and I were always in my truck, unless she was running alongside it, like the time I ran her seven miles up Cumberland Pass and three miles down before making her get in the truck (she was a little sore for a couple of days, but then off and running once again).

And as long as I was taking Reprieve out, might as well make it a party, eh? So there I’d go, down the road with a truckful of dogs. We never had a mishap, but one time when I on-boarded a couple of extra dogs, it got to be too much for Bingo. We were on the highway, still inside city limits, when I heard metal indent, and I could see from our shadow on the road that Bingo had climbed out of the bed, past the truck box and was standing on top of the cab. (I’m not sure I ever mentioned that to the Barrys. Until now.) Don’t worry, though: I safely steered to the side of the road and put him in the cab with me.

Sadly, the day came when I was able to repay Peg for all her hospitality and patience with Reprieve (after one horseback ride, Peg had to spend most of the day pulling quills out of my dog, who had rolled in a dead porcupine): her husband Jim was dying of cancer.

Like most of us, I suppose, in these situations I always say, “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do,” because I don’t really know what would be helpful, but in this instance, the answer was so clear I didn’t even have to ask the question. I just came on a daily basis and picked up their two dogs, plunking them in the truck to take them for walks. Sometimes I even smushed five or six dogs into my little Geo Tracker, which looked like a clown car when we all emerged up by the Lorimers’ house on a hill above town.

All of those dogs are gone now, and the truck and Tracker too. Ashoka, the dog who came after Reprieve, wasn’t very social with other dogs, so we walked alone (or with Lynn). Oz loves to meet new dogs, but so far we haven’t found any walking buddies. Kara’s husband just got a new Lab puppy, though, and Oz was the first non-littermate dog he met, so maybe they’ll someday want to go walking together.

But I’m pretty sure the days of me stuffing every neighborhood dog into the back of a truck and heading for the hills are over. I hadn’t realized how much I missed that until I found the photo above.

Some of my best friends are dogs, you know, even if you’ll never hear me talking about it.


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