I have always had a passion for rescuing animals, whether it’s taking in a homeless cat wandering a neighborhood or adopting a dog from a shelter. I adopted my first rescue (a cat) when I was 5, so that’s just what I’ve always been in support of. Oddly enough, my parents had dogs from breeders the entire time I lived at home with them, so this passion was completely my own. When we were living in Oregon when I was little, my parents bought a Golden Retriever; a great dog named Sampson. He had a wonderful temperament and loved people. The other Golden Retriever they had, who my parents named Dickens, was…how do I put it…a bit off. Sweet, but kind of a dumdum.
My parents had built a huge dog run in our backyard for the dogs to stay in while they were at work and we were at school. Sampson was really smart and had figured out how to open the latch, so we had to put a lock on it while we were away. As soon as we came home, we would undo the lock and start running across the yard, because Sam would open the latch and run out to race laps around us. Dickens wasn’t smart enough to figure that out, much less retain how to do any tricks we taught him. He was a sweet dog, but like I said, not the brightest.
As Dickens got older, he would start fights with Sam, so my parents built a divider fence in the dog run to keep them separated while we were away from home. That helped, but there will still times when we would have them out in the yard with us and Dickens would start a fight again. The fights always scared me because of the noise, but rarely were there actual injuries from it. But one time, Dickens went nuts, jumping at Sam’s face, and in his defense, Sam got him pretty good in the forehead.
Dickens spent a couple of days at the vet because as it turned out, Sampson had chomped down on his head in such a way that got Dickens in the jaw and fluid was building up in it. The only way to keep that fluid out of there was by implanting two pieces of surgical tubing on either side of his head to drain out. Dickens came home just as cheerful and clueless as he had always been, but he looked pretty scary to me. That’s when I got an idea.
Eight year old me decided something good was going to come out of this situation, so I came up with a plan to charge the neighborhood kids to “COME SEE THE DOG WITH HORNS” and make enough money to get a Slurpee for myself, and a special dog treat for Dickens. I charged everyone 50 cents and had a line at our front yard gate to walk each person individually to the backyard dog run to see “THE DOG WITH HORNS.” It was a smashing success, and Dickens loved having all of the visitors. The kids were too afraid to get close to see that it was only surgical tubing, so no one questioned if they were actual horns. I earned $5.50 and was already making plans for which Slurpee flavors I would be mixing together later that day when my brother saw what I was doing, told my mom, and my mom made me give the money back. Darn.
We moved to California from Oregon when I was in 8th grade. The dogs, now much older, had stopped with the fighting. Dickens had started having seizures occasionally when I was in high school (we found out he had epilepsy) and was constantly getting out of the backyard during the night (no dog run at this new house). He always got picked up by animal control, and we would go get him. It started to feel like we were bailing a rebellious teenager out of jail. We would go to the dog run he was kept in to identify Dickens, who stood there, looking so proud of himself for the adventures he had just been on. The rebellion of Dickens hit an all-time high after I had moved out of my parents house. Dickens was escaping the yard every night because he had befriended a pack of coyotes. Yes. Coyotes. The coyotes would run through our neighborhood and stop by to pick up Dickens, who had been seen by our neighbors on multiple occasions, running down the streets with these coyotes. Dickens would show up at my parents front door the next morning, exhausted, but looking like he had the time of his life. He eventually stopped coming home because I’m pretty sure he found his outlaw gang family lifestyle more appealing.
Looking back on this, it makes me sad that my parents didn’t do more to protect their dog. Maybe that’s why I’m such a huge advocate for rescuing animals that need homes instead of buying from breeders. But the idea of this oddball dog living out his days with his new found rebel friends, telling them stories of the time he once had horns, as the coyotes gasp in admiration and lean in to hear more, still makes me laugh and at least provides some comfort to me.