“How much is that doggie in the window? The one with the waggly tail?”
In January, when singer Patti Page died, I didn’t realize who she was. That changed as soon as the radio played a few bars of “Doggie in the Window.” A huge hit for Page in 1953, that tune was the anthem of my childhood, the song everybody sang in our gray Chevy sedan.
About that time, we had a little mutt named Patches. He died one winter after running out into the road while my brother and I were sledding down the hill in front of our house in New England.
Afterward, I recall the smudges of blood on Patches’ fur; he lay limp inside a cardboard box on the front seat of that Chevy. By then, darkness had fallen and my mother drove to the vet’s house because his clinic had closed. The vet wasn’t home, but a man came out, leaned in through the passenger-side window, pulled back the dog’s eyelid and said nothing could be done.
I scarcely remember anything about Patches except for his shaggy, light-brown coat, but his death has hung with me, along with those of the other key canines of my life. As an adult, I’ve grieved and gone on. At least that’s what’s happened before. But we’re dogless now and have been for what amounts to a dog’s life.
Recently, I found myself with time between Tacoma appointments and, nearing the animal shelter, stopped in. Trouble is, every dog that appealed to me also reminded me of one I used to own.
I mused, for example, on a yellow lab, not quite full grown, his eyes deep brown and plaintive. He made me think of Rusty, whose sturdy house stands empty our backyard – except when one of our stray hens decides to nest inside.
Rusty was a lab mix named for her coloring, the most energetic in the box of free pups that a man and his sons hawked outside the Eatonville supermarket one summer day many years ago. She loved to have her belly rubbed. Swimming delighted her. In her prime, she’d fetch tennis balls without end, an athlete so driven that she tore ligaments in both rear knees.
(Warning to owners of this type of sporty canine: Throw low to the ground. Dogs aren’t built to jump high.)
Anyway, my husband and I weren’t thinking about dogs when we stopped at the store that day. The sudden adoption prompted an immediate backyard security upgrade to make sure that this newest canine pet would not suffer the same fate as the previous, who was hit by a truck and lost the use of his back legs. To alleviate his suffering, we had Buddy put to sleep.
I’ll always remember my husband’s arms around me as I bawled in the veterinary clinic’s parking lot, wondering how often it was that the caring staff inside had to witness such outbursts. We both punished ourselves for allowing Buddy to come to this horrible, painful end. He was handsome, smart as they come. A border collie-blue heeler mix — mostly black, with brown-and-white accents — he loved to herd and, unfortunately, tried nipping at wheels instead of heels.
Before that, there was Frank, a girl with a boy’s name. The first time I saw her, she was a mass of white fluff wriggling around my legs and under the gray steel desks of my office. A co-worker had turned our workplace into a showcase for a litter he and his wife were giving away. Later, Frank traveled with me as I moved across country and from job to job until old age and a bad back left her rear end paralyzed. In her case, too, I chose euthanasia.
I told my husband about my visit to the animal shelter.
“Are you ready to get a dog?” he asked. “I was ready to get a dog years back, but you didn’t want to.”
I don’t know. Dogs just don’t live long enough, I tell my friends. I’m getting old, I think to myself. And that hole in my heart can’t seem to heal.Susan Gordon, one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page, lives on about five acres north of Eatonville with her husband and son. She’s a former News Tribune staff writer. Reach her at SJGordonCommunications@gmail.com.