We have a new dog in the family now. Frankie joined us two days ago; she’s part shepherd and part something (or several somethings), eight weeks old and doing the standard cycle of full speed ahead, crash for a few hours, repeat. Razor teeth, no bladder control to speak of, and still a little scared of all the new sights, smells, and sounds, not to mention the two adult cats who are not thrilled at sharing what they thought was their space by divine right. No fights so far, just wary circles and uncertain boundaries. We’re all still getting used to each other. I’m sitting here now thinking about Frankie and all the other pets my wife and I have had in our years together.

A little over 40 years ago I spent quite a few days on our property clearing brush from the site of what is still our home, and letting our two Labs run. I wasn’t worried; we were off the paved road and backed up to House Mountain, so there was all kinds of room. One afternoon, I hadn’t seen them for a little while when a pickup truck pulled into the clearing and a man got out. He motioned me over and pointed to the bed of his truck, where a dead turkey was lying. “Your dogs chased her down,” he said, and paused. “She was settin’ a nest, too.”

I stammered something about how sorry I was and how of course I’d pay for the turkey and chicks, and he interrupted me. “No need,” he said, “just keep your dogs up from here on in.” I nodded, knowing from being raised in the country that you don’t insult a man by offering him money after he’s declared the matter closed. He got back in his truck and left. He didn’t want my money; he wanted to know if I was going to be a good neighbor. Sort of a test, I guess, looking back on it now. After that we only let our dogs run one at a time, because we knew neither one would go far without the other one, and that worked out well. The only other problem we had from those two was once when Tasha got out and came back with a chicken in her mouth. She must have carried it a quarter mile or more, and that was the most terrified chicken I have ever seen. 

Counting Frankie, Suzanne and I have owned probably a dozen dogs and cats in our time together. The combination of living on a dead end gravel road, having a good vet, and making sure they’re well cared for has resulted in long lives for almost all of our animals. I’d like to think it’s been a good life for them, and they certainly have added something important to our lives. It’s been said that pets are good for you in many ways:  physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. The added expense and time commitment required seems a very small price to pay for that level and variety of benefit.

Many thanks to Union County Humane Society for helping us find the newest member of our family.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

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