Walking Around: A Boy and His Dogs

I’ll put up slightly different posts for the rest of the week. Dogs and walking go hand in hand so today I’ll recount the dogs of my life.

ingemar Rupert lena ollie

Val, or Valentine, was a family dog before I was part of the family. An image of a tan dog jumping around has always been in my memory but it was Opie, or OP (operation puppy), who was my first dog. A salt and pepper miniature schnauzer, Opie was a whip smart ball of neurotic energy who was such a good friend and witness to all of my growing pains and adventures. She was also an amazingly accurate alarm, barking when my mother’s car was halfway up the block giving me and my friends’ ample time to clean up whatever trouble we were getting into.

I left New York in 1983 for drier pastures and landed in Boston for five years. Living in a group house and bored after a trip to Europe my girlfriend Kathy and I decided to get a dog on a whim, never the best plan. After getting the approval of our roommates, we ventured down the street to a local shelter and found Ingemar. We had just seen and loved the movie My Life as a Dog and the boy’s name was an easy choice. The roommates regretted their approval immediately.

Ingemar would turn out to be a very special dog, if by special we mean psychotic. A short list of her exploits include jumping through a plate glass window—to her credit it was usually open,  and jumping out the window of a moving car—there was a dog she wanted chase. She had a penchant for climbing onto the kitchen counter and throwing dirty dishes out of the sink onto the floor. On numerous occasions I would hear a plate shatter as I reached the front door of the building we lived in. When I got home on the occasions that she waited for me to leave, the plates would be shattered and the edges often bloodied from the dog cutting her tongue while licking them clean. Her final act of insanity, which at 14 didn’t kill her, was to take a header off a second floor that had no railing. She looked over, saw me on the first floor and decided to bypass the stairs. My wife watched in horror as Ingemar turned over in midair landing on her back on the fourth step and then bouncing on her spine down the remaining stairs.

Ingemar was two years old when Kathy and I got Rupert; he was a Christmas present I couldn’t afford but that has never stopped me. Rupert was a purebred Dalmatian who is probably the sweetest dog I have had. Dalmatians can be a handful but Rupert was sweet beyond sweet.  But sweet doesn’t always add to up to a memorable existence. Ingemar was out to lunch but incredibly entertaining as well.

I moved to Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn because of my apartments proximity to Red Hook Park where I would spend almost every morning and evening of my life for the next fifteen years.  Having dogs in the city demands a commitment to exercising them consistently so I have always lived nears parks by design. For the last seven years I have lived near Prospect Park which I consider to be one of the more beautiful places on earth and for me personally, a sacred space that I have been soaking in since my father took me to outdoor hockey lessons at 6am on Sunday mornings when I was seven years old.

Ingemar and Rupert lived to the ripe old ages of 16 and 14 and I vowed to take a year off between dogs. Two months later Caitlin asked a silly question and we were at North Shore Animal League heading home with Lena and Shirley (Horne and Chisholm). Lena was a stunning red viszla/mutt who was always a bit skittish but her beauty outweighed her temperament. Shirley was a little chow like puff ball who, to our great sadness had parvo, a puppy disease, when she came home with us, and soon got sick and died. This following close on the heels of losing Ingemar and Rupert was very powerful.

Ten months later I got an email from someone asking if I was interested in a rescue. A smallish beauty built like a spark plug, Ollie entered our lives and had very little use for Lena right from the start. They got along for the most part but Ollie got the best of her in a couple of skirmishes that they had. They both had their little tics; Lena’s being a more difficult one to deal with. She liked to start fights in a pack of dogs and then scamper away once the tempers flared. This coupled with Ollie’s refusal to come when called kept me from going to Prospect Park, and actually had me driving to Red Hook Park from our new neighborhood of Ditmas Park which was a very unnecessary fifteen minute drive.

Then Lena went the way of all things at the young age of eight. Pancreatic cancer took her quickly and we were left alone with Ollie. And as things sometimes very strangely go, Ollie was very relieved to see Lena pass and turned into the world’s greatest dog.

That is where I am at today. Ollie has become my bestest bud accompanying me on the glorious walks I have been taking of late. Post Lena, Ollie will come to my call from any part of the park immediately, unless he is in hot pursuit of a squirrel.

It is hard for me to express the sum total of joy and love I have received over the years from my canine friends. Life would have been so much less sweet without them.

Use It or Lose It
Sunday Morning Music: Leonard Cohen