Thursday, August 23, 2012

August and the dogs of summer

8/22/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

It’s August—and the “Dog Days of Summer” are upon us. When I was growing up our family fled the hot, sultry L.A. heat and spent the entire month in the cool, fresh air of the San Bernardino Mountains. We city kids rode horses, swam in the lakes, read books, chased squirrels, explored the woods and just had fun. And one year, we literally rescued a dog.

It was the late 1940s and1950s. Male and female roles were very stereotypical. My dad and grandfather alternated vacation weeks with us. They would both spend every weekend with us, and take turns working alternate weeks at the family business to pay for this holiday.

My grandfather was a very proper individual and I was used to seeing him in his regular business uniform of a three-piece suit, dress shirt and necktie. In the mountains, he became someone else. Although I never saw him in a pair of blue jeans, he did wear short-sleeved shirts and slacks.

It was a special treat to sit with him out in the cabin’s patio while he drank a cup of coffee and trained the Blue Jays to come and take a peanut out of his hand. First he would tie a peanut on a piece of string to entice the Jay. Then he would slowly pull the string towards him. At first the birds didn’t take the bait but slowly they learned there was always a peanut reward at the end of the string.

Mother entertained us kids and grandmother spent her vacation in the kitchen cooking on the wood stove for our family of seven. I remember her stoking the oven morning and evening while she cooked breakfast and dinner, pies and cakes. I don’t remember her relaxing, going swimming with us or taking a nap. I can’t believe she considered slaving over a hot stove a vacation.

At least once a summer dad took us to the lake and we ‘fished.’ I don’t believe that any of us ever caught anything. Inevitably, grandpa would take pity on us and drive us to the Blue Jay Trout Farm. There, the fish practically jumped out of the water and hooked themselves. The only limit was grandpa’s wallet but grandmother always welcomed our catch.

I must have been about 12 years old when a beautiful, golden-colored Cocker Spaniel adopted our family where we were staying in Crestline. That was the day  I went horseback riding and the horse ran away with me. I was a scared little girl until I returned to the cabin. There, my heart leaped for joy when I saw this little golden ball of fuzz hiding in the woods.

It was love at first sight. She was scared and so hungry that I easily enticed her to come to me. After a nice dinner, she made herself at home, laid down and went to sleep. I was told to go to the neighboring cabins and find out where she lived. Everyone had the same story: she had been scavenging the neighborhood for days and no one knew where she belonged.

 My mother and dad weren’t dog people and I knew there was no way that they would let me bring her home to the city. But miracles do happen! I named her Goldie, fed her and combed the tangles out of her fur. And somehow, she wedged herself into mother’s Oldsmobile between us kids and came to live with us in the city.

The surprise, however, was on us. She was pregnant! A few weeks later this gorgeous purebred dog delivered seven (7!) ugly, mongrel pups. We were shocked. There was not a Cocker Spaniel looking pup among them. Fortunately, no puppy is ever really ugly so we were able to find all of them homes.

I wish I could tell you that Goldie’s story had a happy ending but it didn’t. She was very lonely after her babies were adopted and was not allowed to come in the house. The only way we kids could play with her was through a locked gate. She was completely isolated.

Day after day, she languished in the back yard and waited for a chance to escape her prison. When the gardener came to take care of the flowers, she would dart out the gate and down the street. When the pool man came to clean the swimming pool he often left the gate open and she would make her dash to freedom.

After school, I would go looking for her and bring her home. Finally, she simply wasn’t to be found. One day the phone rang and it was a neighbor around the corner and down the hill. She wondered if we owned a golden Cocker Spaniel. My mother said, “yes,” and they compared notes. It ended with Goldie being given to the other family and I never saw her again.

Looking back on my experience with one stray dog, I know where my compassion for lost animals comes from. Goldie was lost, pregnant and completely helpless until she found us. We saved her. Later, after I married and established my own family, lost animals on the street, in shelters or pet stores always tugged at my heart strings.

Our family’s choice of dogs reflect that tug and most of them joined us in summer. Our first dog was Shep. He was a pure German Shepherd puppy that showed up on our front doorstep as a stray. Cinder (Cocker/Poodle mix) and Honey (Doberman), helped raise our kids. They came from pet stores where they cost a whopping $9 each. Lady (shepherd mix) came from Greenhill and all three of the Dachshunds came from so-called breeders with too many puppies.

I love my dogs and I love August. Dogs have taught me to wag more, bark less and love unconditionally. August has taught me that winter is coming so I’d better get going if I’m going to take a vacation!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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