14 March 2008

My First Best Friend

This is a picture taken, oh, about 36 years ago. It is me with my dog, Cindy. As you can tell, Cindy was a Black Labrador Retriever. What you can't tell from the picture is that she was the best dog in the world.

My parents bought 8-week-old Cindy in 1967 while my dad was attending vet school at the University of Minnesota. I believe my dad had purchased her with the hopes of training her to be his bird dog when he went hunting. During her training she was accidentally shot. The wound was superficial but it was enough to make her gun-shy and, therefore, useless as a hunting dog. She became our house dog and my family was all the better for it.

By the time I came along in '69, my parents owned 2 dogs - Cindy and a basset hound named Monty, we moved to Urbana (my dad had taken a post as assistant professor and veterinary practitioner with the small animal clinic at UIUC) and a few months later to Tolono. My mom says both dogs were very protective of me. They both slept under my crib and wouldn't let anybody, other than my parents, near me as I slept. Once I was mobile, though, Monty took a disliking to me and bit me. It pained my dad, but he decided that Monty had to go.

Cindy, however, treated me like one of her pups. I would nap on her, play on her, follow her around. My parents told me time and again that I learned the hand signals Cindy was trained with (my dad still trained her because he said it was good exercise and she loved running after the dummy decoy he used) and used those to communicate with her. There is one story that fully illustrates this and a even photo documenting the occasion. I was maybe 18 months old and had brought Cindy into the kitchen and over to the counter. I signaled her to lie down and then to stay. Then I stood on her back and retrieved the sugar bowl on the counter fully intending to devour the contents. The picture shows me swaddled in a diaper standing on the dog's back, sugar bowl in hand.

As a preschooler I was obsessed with Lassie. Every morning I would watch reruns of the old black and white show wishing I was Timmy. Afterwards I would play "Lassie" with Cindy, which was me hiding in the recesses of my parents' closet yelling, "Help! Lassie! Come find me!" Cindy always found me. Always.

When my parents split up I was 8 and Cindy was my greatest comfort during that period of emotional upheaval. She was a constant - always there with a lick on the cheek or hand, always listening.

Cindy lived to be 15, pretty old for a Lab. She was arthritic and then her kidneys gave out. My dad was the one who was with her when she died. He was the vet who administered the "blue juice," what he called the serum that ended her life. I know that was incredibly difficult for him to do but it needed to be done to stop her pain; there was no alternative.

How I miss that dog, my first true friend, even 30 years later.


Anonymous said...

Now you've got me all teary-eyed. When I had cancer it was my dog that got me through it at times. He sensed something wasn't right and stayed by my side the whole time. Moving away from home and not taking him was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, but I know it is what's best for him. He's happy out in the country with his daughter to keep him company.

Leeanthro said...

Your son looks just like you in that photo!