If you’d told my parents when I was a kid that I’d one day be a person people come to with questions about animal issues in Sullivan County, they’d have told you about the time I got a bloody nose from a dog’s tail and refused to let go of the grudge. She won’t be a dog person, they would have said, she doesn’t even like them.
Then came the teen years. And Bingo.
He was the puppy they brought home from the SPCA in Rock Hill not for the dog-hating teen daughter but her little brother who fell in love with the ball of blond fluff who stood at the edge of the cage, licking and trying to get into his arms.
He was 5 months old and acted like it. He jumped. He licked. He left me paralyzed with the same panic that sprang up in my chest every time I’d encountered a dog since I was a toddler.
Yes, I was afraid. But I was also a teenager, convinced I could hide behind the apathy.
With any other dog, it may have worked. Who knows, if it had been a spaniel or a chow they’d brought home instead of the little shepherd mix, I might be living the life of the animal-avoidant today instead of typing in my office with a snoring mutt at my feet.
But it was Bingo. He was the dog who took seriously his genes. He was a shepherd, and he had children to herd, kids to whip into shape, a teenage girl who needed to listen and listen good.
He began following me. Everywhere.
I’d try to stalk off for that popular teenage timewaster – the silent, sulky walk – and Bingo would trot along. He’d be beside me at times, but mostly in front of me, so I’d trip over him, roll my eyes and push him off to the side of the road where “you’ll be safer boy,” and continue walking down the middle. . . until he got in front of me again.
He wasn’t going to let me get away from him or away with anything if he didn’t approve.
Come to think of it, Bingo took the same attitude toward nature. He was short of leg, broad of shoulder but still just a mutt with dingo-like ears when a bear wandered onto my parents’ property and he promptly treed the interloper, leaving the 250 pound beast stuck high above the earth until my brother could safely board his bus to school.
I can only thank some mysterious deity that he took a liking to my husband from the get go. It may have been the cheeseburger dangling from his fingers during a certain party which Bingo took full advantage of, and appreciated him for, but if he could run off a bear, he could have run off my betrothed.
He decided, instead, that this was a new friend.
And when our daughter came along, this was his newest child, a person to herd.
This time it was the wheels of the stroller he would trot in front of as we tried to go down the road, following for four miles to make sure his girls were OK. And on the ride back home in the car, he’d remind Jillian how much she was loved – with the same tongue he’d used to greet a little boy in the pound a decade before.
It was the same tongue that licked my hand on Thanksgiving when I stuck his medicine in a pat of butter and held it out for this slower, limping dog who a decade and a half before would have jumped up and taken my offering before I could get it off the dish.
It was that same dog who waited Tuesday for my brother and I, his two children, to curl up at his side, to hold his paw and scratch his ears, to repeat words I once I’d never thought I’d say, before he went to sleep forever.
I love dogs, Bingo, but I had to love you first.