John Carlson: Ya Gotta Love Dogs

Toby, with Jersey nearby, enjoying his favorite resting place. Photo by: John CarlsonToby, with Jersey nearby, enjoying his favorite resting place. Photo by: John Carlson

By: John Carlson—

For a guy raised by God-fearing parents, a 36-year member of Muncie’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and a graduate of that Christian college just up the road called Taylor University, I am a decidedly subpar, half-baked believer.

Nevertheless, I say my prayers every night, soliciting no shortage of blessings, but also giving thanks for the ones I have.

Like dogs.

I’m not sure how this particular passage got dropped from the Bible. Nevertheless, I am certain at one point there was a verse to the effect that, “And Jesus proclaimed to the masses, ‘All dogs shall go to heaven … absolutely no exceptions.’” That’s my belief, anyhow. If you think differently, just stuff a sock in it, because I don’t want to hear about it.

Nancy and I have had no shortage of dogs in our marriage. The first was Ro, which was short for Roald Dahg. This was a takeoff on the spelling of Roald Dahl, one of my favorite writers. Sort of the ultimate rescue dog, Ro was found by friends of ours as a puppy, along with his litter mates, living in the hollowed out trunk of a dead tree.

You can’t get more “rescue” than that.

Our second dog, Layla, had a considerably easier introduction to life on earth, being the offspring of my late brother-in-law Bruce’s two dachshunds. At our first meeting, I walked into his farmhouse to pick up this puppy. Suddenly, all eight inches of Layla came storming out from behind his kitchen freezer like Stephen King’s killer pooch “Cujo,” except for being roughly one/five-hundredth of Cujo’s size. If I had been wearing sandals, my toenails would have been goners. Soon enough we made up, though, and she became my first “soul dog.” Close my eyes and I can still picture her rounding a thousand corners, dragging her hole-ridden blanket to me, just to be hauled up into my lap and wrapped in love. When she died at age thirteen, it felt like a little bit of me died, too.

Now we have Toby and Jersey, both of whom came to us from the Animal Rescue Fund and, ultimately, the good graces of its founder, Terri Panszi. Toby is a dachshund and former calendar dog, having once been ARF’s Mr. July. As such, he was photographed wearing a lei and a loud Hawaiian shirt. He’d have looked even cooler sipping a Tequila Sunrise, but his front legs were way too stubby to wrap around a highball glass. He is mostly Nancy’s dog.

Jersey, our dachshund/chihuahua mix, has a bark and personality as big as she is small. She is mostly mine, and my second “soul dog.”

Looking back on their adoptions, it seems like we paid a bit over a hundred bucks for the processing and health-exam fees of each. Maybe ARF could offer them cheaper. But I think the point is that, paying a significant amount separates the folks who truly plan for that rescue dog from folks who decide on a whim, “Let’s get one!” for what amounts to pocket change. That might work out fine for the dog, and I hope it does. But then again, it might not.

Anyway, Nancy and I feel our ARF dogs – which also included our dearly departed Dandelion –  have been incredibly good bargains. Over the nearly four years we’ve had Jersey, for example, that hundred bucks works out to mere pennies a day. For that amount, what do we get? Laughs the first thing every morning, and the last thing every evening.

This truly amazes me. Given the state of the world these days, our lives would seem much more conducive to fits of screaming, wailing, moaning, cussing, hyperventilating and maybe even barfing … you name it. That this little black dog bookends each of our days with smiles and hearty laughter, and does the same many of the hours in between, strikes me as nothing short of priceless.

I mean, how do you put a value on happiness?

As for Toby, these days he seems to be slowing down. The spread of white hair around his muzzle only attests to that fact. He’s not that brash calendar pup in the Hawaiian shirt anymore. Aging comes to us all, obviously, whether we walk on two legs or four. It’s still a pain, though. But there’s never been a more loving dog than Toby. Not in our lives, anyway. With Nancy scooted over in her recliner, he sits on his haunches, straight up under the cover of her left arm, and stays there until she leaves the chair. Sometimes it’s like he’s reading a novel or watching a television show along with her. At least, he seems to be until his eyes close, he leans his head gently against her, and falls asleep.

If we didn’t have Toby and Jersey, we often wonder, what would we talk about? Taxes? The color of our walls? The optimum temperature for serving string cheese? Or maybe I should say, what would we talk about so joyfully? Beats the heck out of me, but I’ll tell you this.

The rest of us should live lives of such perfect love as our dogs do.

Listen below to hear John talk about his article with WLBC’s Steve Lindell.

A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on Muncie Journal every Friday.