The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 17, 2004

Features

Carlisle Comments When dogs were just dogs

Lily happily runs off with her playgroup three times a week. She and her pals — Zander, Natasha and Kayla — romp for an hour in various Carlisle woods with their caretaker Lee.

Lily is my golden retriever, seven months old, and her playmates are various breeds and ages. Recently the playgroup inspired me to remember the dogs of my childhood, a long-ago time when most of them had doggy names. Some of ours were Lassie, Skippy, Silver and Flippy, and my best friend's beagle was called Spot. (Her cat was Fluffy.) Today, giving our dogs and cats people names affirms their place in the 21st century family — the child-substitute, or at least a family member, more than just our pets.

Pets were what we had when I was a child. Playgroups and doggy day care weren't needed then, because most moms were home during the day. Leash laws were unheard of, invisible fences hadn't been invented and we would open the back door — our dog went out, and eventually came home. Of course, we had the occasional phone call from across town informing us that Lassie or Skippy or Flippy was visiting and could we please pick her/him up.

If we had a dog with behavioral problems, we didn't know it. Back then (way back!) there were neither dog psychiatrists nor obedience schools. In more recent history, my previous golden retriever, Kira, and I did go to obedience school and now, a dozen years later, it's morphed into "puppy kindergarten" and "graduate puppy" — advancing further our anthropomorphism of today's pooches. (After 12 weeks and $250 worth of training, Lily comes only when it's convenient for her, but her sit-stays are exemplary.)

This is the season for giving. My Christmas list includes toys for the grandchildren, Lily, my cat Seymour and my grand-dog Charlie, as well as stocking-stuffers. Poor Lassie-Skippy-Flippy never had a Christmas stocking. Lily already has a vast assortment of half-chewed furry toy animals, bald tennis balls, and my old boots, but the dear departed dogs of my childhood played with sticks, red balls and were thrown an occasional bone (donated by the butcher) to gnaw on. They seemed happy and well-adjusted.

Even sleeping arrangements are different today. My childhood dogs snoozed and dreamed on an old blanket in the kitchen, but Lily sleeps in her crate in my bedroom. Other dogs I know sleep on their owners' bed, but in my house that's the province of the cat.

Then there's food. Surely my puppy eats far better than most hungry children in sub-Saharan Africa, which does make me feel sad and a little ridiculous. She's on a raw food diet recommended by her breeder — no Alpo, thank you. Our Skippies and Lassies ate kibbles and table food and lived to a ripe old age.

I don't mean to suggest that the dogs of a lifetime ago were any less loved than the pampered pooches of today. I adored every one of mine, poured out my heart to them, cried into their furry necks in times of trouble and laughed at their antics. They loved me back, even if there was no Christmas stocking for Santa to fill.

Carlisle Comments is a column that welcomes well-written contributions from town residents on a wide range of topics.


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