Eye on the Ball: A dog’s life

BOB DeSTEFANO PHOTO | Bailey waiting at the door to greet arrivals.
BOB DeSTEFANO PHOTO | Bailey waiting at the door to greet arrivals.

This is the story of a dog, our dog, but it’s really a love story. Although I’m late to this game of man’s best friend, I must admit I never witnessed what a certain kind of true love is until I inherited a dog.

When I was a boy, a dog bit my mother. Because of that, she always had a dislike for them and we children were never allowed to have a puppy. She would tell us, “Dogs will bite you for just about anything.” As a result, I spent a lifetime being nervous about exactly what a dog was thinking. I didn’t go to houses where people had dogs and if I did, the dogs would have to be put in another room until I left. A story my family loved to share happened when I was walking to school in kindergarten. (Yes, in those days we walked to school as 5-year-olds.)

I still remember the black and white dog that ran toward me and scared me enough to climb a tree. I sat in that tree the whole day because the dog sat at the bottom. At the end of the school day, my older brother chased the dog away so I could come down.

Moving ahead 30 years when my kids were growing up, everyone said they should have a dog for a pet. We ended up having two dogs, but neither one lasted very long. When the children were under 5, we had a black lab we named Dixie. Because our jobs kept us away from home all day and we couldn’t properly care for him, we had to let him go. Although we loved Dixie, we felt it just wasn’t fair to treat him that way.

Our other dog, Patches, was a homeless stray we brought back from Florida. My kids were now older and could help take care of Patches and we all fell in love with him. One weekend while we traveled to New Jersey, we left him at the local veterinarian.

When we came home, our playful Patches was totally different —listless, vomiting and walking slowly with his head down. We immediately brought him back to the vet, who told us that all dogs are that way when the owners go away. The next day we found Patches dead on our living room floor. Our family was devastated.

We discovered he died of a virus that comes from contact with another dog’s feces. We wrote a bitter letter to the veterinarian and let him know exactly what we thought of him and his establishment. Thank goodness, he is no longer in business on the East End.

My first realization of the extent to which people can love animals was after my daughter, Nancy, was married. She was given a gift of money by Sheila Dominy, with instructions to buy herself something she loved. She and her husband purchased a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy and named him Charlie Dominy. We don’t know why or how, but within a couple of years, Charlie died.

Watching my daughter hugging her dog and crying was a kind of love I had never witnessed. I was 70 years old, but I wondered where my head was for all those years when people would tell me their pet had died. I had no idea what kind of grief they were feeling. We were told the best thing to do was quickly get another dog. Without delay, Nancy saw the dog she wanted in an advertisement from Texas, another King Charles that happened to be born on her birthday.

She had him shipped here from Texas five years ago. They named him Bailey. Nancy passed away three years ago and Anne and I inherited Bailey. We still call ourselves grandma and grandpa to Bailey and we totally spoil him. Anne and I have never observed the particular kind of love Bailey gives us. He has given his life to my wife and has become her constant companion and shadow. (Apologies to all dog lovers who have always known what I’ve discovered.)

Wherever she goes in the house, Bailey moves with her. He doesn’t sit in the family room if she’s in the living room. If she sits down to watch television, he sits on her feet. After dinner, he wants to sit on her lap and be cuddled. If he wants to play, he brings her a toy. If he has to go outside, he goes to the door and stares at it, then at us. The thing that really throws me is Bailey seems to know when Anne isn’t feeling well.

When that happens, he becomes even more protective and loving. Sometimes he empathizes so closely and intimately that his behavior seems just short of miraculous. For me, because he’s so playful and loves to both run and walk, I’m forced to exercise every day. Since we overfeed him, the exercise also works for him.

As soon as we enter the house from our daily walk, it’s the same routine. He starts wagging his tail and makes a mad dash for Anne. We’ve noticed that when we leave the house without him, he doesn’t leave his spot by the door and never touches the food we leave for him.

As soon as we return, the tail starts wagging and he’s jumping with excitement. He then goes over and eats the food that he always knew was waiting for him. We are amazed and constantly reminded of what real love is all about. I thank Bailey and all the dogs for opening my eyes to write this love story. By the way, I’m no longer afraid of dogs.