Man’s best friend. That phrase paints a picture of a regal, sturdy dog whose loyalty and commitment dwarf any human capability. Everyone can recall tales of canine heroism offering boundless love for their masters, regardless of emotional reciprocity: Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Old Yeller. Even Scooby Doo epitomized the selfless characteristics we admire and often attempt but fail to emulate.
I’ve had the honor to befriend and care for many dogs. Our family’s first “child” was a classically handsome black lab named Nike. We added another lab, Numa, to our family a year later. These beautiful dogs fit the stereotypical movie characters I knew from my childhood. Our time together was short, but their lives impacted ours in immeasurable ways.
You can never “replace” these family members, but when our (human) children got older, we attempted to fill this void with some new fuzzy friends. My 11-year-old daughter led a university-level puppy research project to find the perfect breeds for our family (I wasn’t invited to participate other than to provide necessary funding):
Pugs. Did you know Pugs have a natural tendency for their eyes to pop out of their heads? That’s a real thing. Pugs are the equivalent of those cheap assemble-yourself bookshelves with confusing instructions and missing parts. We weren’t into a fixer-upper project. Pugs were out.
English Mastiffs are known to drool, slobber, snore and be “gassy.” They can weigh more than 200 pounds. Gee, can we get three of them? Too big. No to the English Mastiff.
Italian Greyhound? They look hungry. Too skinny.
Shih Tzu? I can’t even type that with a straight face.
Chow chow? No no.
After an exhaustive vetting process devoid of input from the theoretical head of the household, “we” settled on two designer dogs, fit for the Hollywood elite.
Maizy is a Poochon (Poodle and Bichon Frize mix). The Poodle in her provides the hypoallergenic, shed-free qualities often sought after in a pet. Similar with Labradoodles, Yorkipoos and the nearly incomprehensible Saint Berdoodle, poodles can crossbreed with anything, except for other poodles apparently. I’m not passing judgment, just making an observation. I found no relevant internet search results for “Hippopodadoodle,” so perhaps there is at least some biological limitation.
Zoyla is our other swanky dog — a Havanese. She is a cross between a cat and Walter Matthau from “Grumpy Old Men” — often disgruntled, but both ooze an endearing, loveable quality that’s difficult to particularize. Maizy and Zoyla combined barely outweigh my laptop computer, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to protect our family. They viciously bark at all threats: murderers, thieves, squirrels, butterflies, gentle spring breezes, the spin cycle on the washing machine. You know, dangerous stuff. Old Yeller would be proud.
As frustrating and questionably well assembled these creatures are, we still love our dogs. We know the day they set paw inside our homes, they are family. We are also painfully aware that our time together will be short-lived.
Dogs are wiser than their human counterparts in this regard. They recognize the brevity of life and filter out unimportant behaviors.
Dogs don’t hold grudges. Dogs don’t care if you wear a brown belt with black pants. Dogs don’t make fun of your sophomore school picture taken at the peak of your “awkward phase.” Dogs welcome you back to the house after a 30-second trip to the mailbox. Dogs insist on showing their love by uncontrollably bounding into your arms for an (often sloppy) embrace. We would be well-served to apply this same sense of urgency to our human relationships, face-licking aside.
Whether tough hunting companion, hand-bag-sized accessory or anywhere in between, man’s best friend is here to teach us life’s most important lesson: Life is short. We only have enough time to love each other.