Why dogs are simply the best
Fin and Millie check out “who’s outside” at the home of the author’s son in Carbondale, Illinois.
One of our favorite games to play when it comes to my youngest son’s dog, Millie, is to see how fast she can go from relaxing, maybe even snoozing, to the window.
“Hey Millie,” one of us will say and then add with a little sense of urgency, “who’s outside?”
I’m telling you, Usain Bolt, the great Jamaican sprinter, has nothing on Noah Fenske’s dog ... at least when it comes to protecting the old homestead.
Then again, I’m a sucker for dogs. I think they’re all cute. I think they’re all lovable. I think they’re all the best, which is why I love the fact that Laurie Tiemessen, our advertising rep here at the Tribune, puts together our “Pawsome Pets” section.
As soon as the pages are completed, I start paging through them. “I want that one, I want this one, wait, I want all of them.”
You see, I’ve been “dog-less” for more than four years now, and honestly, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think to myself that I need to get my next dog.
Man’s best friends have been a big part of my life since my parents brought home Jack when I was 3 years old, and Jack let me ride him like a horse. I don’t remember Jack — heck, that was 5 1/2 decades ago — but my mom told me the story of our separation so often it still makes me cry.
Dad had received orders to West Germany and Jack couldn’t go with us. So my parents found a good home for him — supposedly miles away, at least according to my mom’s tale — and on the day he left our little house on Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, South Dakota, I cried for hours.
Mom said late that night, we could hear something “pawing” at the door. Dad went to check on it and there stood Jack.
“We called the family,” Mom told me years later, “and they just said, ‘Let Bobby have one more night with him and we’ll come and get him tomorrow.’ So Jack slept with you and I’m so mad that we didn’t have film or a Polaroid because it was a priceless picture — one that I will always treasure in my mind.”
Seven years later, after my father had retired from the Air Force and we moved to Minnesota, we took a trip to Rapid City to visit old friends, including that family that had taken Jack in with him.
And, this, I do remember.
We got to the house, and Jack came flying out the door and ran right up to me, jumped up and gave me the kind of kisses only a dog can.
Mom started crying; Honestly, we all started bawling.
There’s a great line — well, if I’m telling the truth, there are a lot of great lines — in the movie “Marley and Me,” but my favorite will always be this one.
“A dog doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his.”
Over the years, starting with Jack, I have given my heart to a number of dogs, and they’ve always returned the favor. But, like people, you always have your favorites.
Jack was one of them, and so were two more.
There was Snoopy, the dog we got for Christmas when I was in the sixth grade who lived an uncommonly long life, which was amazing because Snoopy was always finding mischief and eating anything that didn’t move.
When my parents divorced, he moved to a farm in Kossuth County. It was kind of his retirement home, and after I moved to Iowa to become a sports writer, I would go visit Snoopy. It was like old times, even though he was as old as dirt by then.
One day I took a call from the couple that had given Snoopy a couple of really good years.
“Bob, if you want to see him, you’d better get up here. The time is near.”
I made it in time. Snoops was on the porch and couldn’t get up, but I swear when I sat down next to him, the tail wagged. A few minutes later, he took his last breath. He was gone. And I cried the entire way back to Mason City.
And then there was Shelby, another dog who had an iron digestive system. She came to live with us soon after the boys and I moved to New Hampton.
Man, that dog could drive me nuts. Rabbits were her mortal enemy. Leaves, too. A fall walk with Shelby was, in hindsight, hilarious because our dog would go after every falling leaf. Every. Single. One.
When she died in 2019, my boys were in college — Josh was home while Noah had just headed to Iowa City. Watching Noah say goodbye via FaceTime was excruciating. And watching the tears stream down Josh’s face at the vet office, well, the English language doesn’t have a word for it.
But the memories Jack (through my mom, of course), Snoopy and Shelby gave me, that pain in the end was a small price to pay for the love they showered upon me and my family — be it Mom, Dad, my sister Cathy, Josh and Noah.
One of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read was Gilda’ Radner’s “It’s Always Something.”In that book, the famed comedian talked about what dogs had meant to her.
“I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love,” she wrote. “For me they are the role model for being alive.”
Gilda, in short, nailed it.
Next week, I will travel to Carbondale, Illinois, to see Millie. (And Noah, too!) And Millie won’t care if I’m rich or poor, educated or not, clever or dull ... and it won’t matter. I’ll giver her my heart; and she’ll give me hers.