I’ve always had a soft spot for dogs. Early on in my childhood, I was terrified of them, mainly because every dog I had met at that point was larger than me or had wronged me in some fashion. (I still haven’t forgotten you, Hoss. You stole my toy dinosaur, chewed off its head, and buried it.)
But when I turned seven, I wanted a dog. It was all I could think about. I nagged my parents daily about why I should get a dog. I went to the library and researched everything I could about dogs. Yes, I was the kid who gave his parents a presentation on why I deserved a dog.
They said no.
I wasn’t prepared for a dog, which was a huge responsibility. Looking back, I think they were right.
But that did not stop me from trying. In fact, I believe it made me work harder in my efforts. I waited another year, yearning for my first dog. It never came. Another year passed by, and I knew Mom and Dad were weakening, and that I wouldn’t have to wait much longer.
And I knew that it was destined to happen. Fate was on my side.
My parents took me along with them to Jefferson City one afternoon to go shopping, which I, to this day, still hate with a passion. As I wandered around Montgomery Ward, killing time as they browsed furniture, I finally sat down from sheer boredom and waited.
I could not have guessed what would happen next.
Mom and Dad walked up, and they stopped in front of me, as I lay twisted in a recliner. My mother looked at me and said,” Ben, get up. We have something to show you.”
I sighed, just wishing they were taking me home, and followed them to the back of the store. They led me into the back room, where a couple of employees were gathered around. As I went closer, I saw why they had gathered there. They were standing around a dog, petting it and feeding it.
Mom turned, looked at me, and said,” Ben, would you like a dog?”
I was shocked. I couldn’t speak. Here was my opportunity! After all of that waiting, the day had arrived!
I walked over to the dog very slowly, and stuck out my hand, allowing the dog to sniff before I touched it. I then sat down next to it, and it walked over, and sat down next to me, and licked my face.
One of the employees sat down next to me, and asked me if I wanted her. I replied yes, smiling. He told me that she had been tied to the fence behind the store and abandoned earlier that morning, and she needed someone to take care of her. He asked me if I would do that.
Page 2 of 3 - I immediately replied yes, thanked him, and then left with my first dog.
We named her Princess. She was a German Shepherd and Border Collie mix, and the quietest dog that I had ever met. I never once heard her bark. We kept her in a pen when we weren’t home, afraid she might run off.
And after we felt she wouldn’t run away, we began to let her roam. She would follow me into the woods, hunting animals and never leaving my side whenever I was outside. She was my closest friend.
I wasn’t particularly popular in my small school, preferring to read books over socializing with my classmates. For the most part, though I was the class clown, I kept to myself. I never really felt like I fit in with the other kids, though I would hang out with them and talk.
I was always counting down the minutes until I could return home and see Princess.
But, the choice to leave her out of the pen still haunts me. My family and I left the house to go to my basketball tournament one day, and I had decided not to pen her up, since we lived out in the country, where everyone’s dogs ran free.
When I got home, I spent hours looking for her, but she never answered my calls.
The next day, after we got home from church, my neighbor, Mark, called the house to talk to Dad.
After he got off the phone, Dad took me aside to tell me that Princess had tried to follow us, making her way to the highway.
She had been hit by a car and killed.
Mark had seen her body on his way home, so he picked her up, and brought her back to our house, where he placed her in the bed of my dad’s pickup.
Dad told me he would take care of it.
I answered him, saying that it was my dog, and my responsibility.
We buried her later that day, underneath a large cedar tree in the woods below our house.
I didn’t have her for a really long time, but the life lessons I learned, because of that dog, are ones I will never forget. I learned responsibility, both in taking care of her and by taking responsibility for my actions.
But the memories I have with that dog are some of my most treasured moments.
The bond between a child and a dog is one that has always fascinated me. The dog plays with the child, but also is the child’s protector. No one tells the dog to do it. There’s no code saying dogs must do this, no contractual agreement between man and beast.
Page 3 of 3 - They do it simply because it’s in their nature.
They do it for love.