Belonging to the Critter Club

Belonging to the Critter Club

It has often struck me, as indeed it has struck most of us who love our dogs with great passion, that the length of life allotted to dogs is exceedingly short. In my humble opinion, this is an unfortunate failure on the part of Mother Nature. After losing my beloved English cocker spaniel in the late 1980s, I swore never to have another dog. The loss was too hard to bear. I could not conceive of going through it all again.

Years later,  after moving to New Mexico and living in a house with land, surrounded by open spaces nearby, my husband and I again revisited the idea of a dog. We went back and forth, researching different species and thinking about what breed would be best for us. They all fell short for one reason or another, and then with my many orthopedic surgeries, we once again decided against having one.

Two become three

One day, while waiting for my Chinese food take-out order to be prepared, I wandered into a Watermelon Ranch store, a no-kill rescue operation here in New Mexico. A skinny little four-legged fellow was out of his cage, sitting with a volunteer. When I sat down, he immediately wandered over to me, sat on my foot and put his head on my knee, just like my English cocker spaniel had done. I asked if he was up for adoption.

The young volunteer said she had really wanted to adopt him herself, but she lived with her parents and didn’t think they would allow her to keep him. We took him for a walk together. The bond that instantly developed  between me and Sherman, the awful name they had given him at the shelter, was obvious to the young volunteer. She said, “You can take him. He has found his forever home.” I called my husband.

“Arthur,” I told him, “I’m in love.”

This was all I had to say.

As always, he understood me immediately. “Do you want me to come and have a look?” he asked.

“Please,” I answered.

“What is he?” my husband asked when he arrived.

“Blue heeler,” the manager said, “Australian cattle dog. He’s special, I won’t give him to just anyone. We’re all so fond of him.”

“Australian cattle dog, blue heeler,” my husband said. “I’ll call my cousin. She knows about dogs.”

As it turned out, she insisted there was no such breed by either of those names in existence, but I found him on Google.

We filled out numerous papers, agreed to put in a dog run, and so the manager allowed us to take him without a home visit. It was clear to everyone that he was meant to be with me. We quickly changed his name to Django (after Django Reinhardt, the French Gypsy guitarist) and there we were, three instead of two.

Django’s avatar

Django’s avatar, a felt creation by Debbie Michelsen (PHOTO BY AUTHOR)

Almost on a daily basis, we comment as to how happy he has made us both. We laugh at his antics, and even though I am clearly his “human,” he adores my husband. He loves people, children and other dogs; he is nothing but a joy.

Unlike the breed description, he has never been territorial. He did manage to feast on our Turkish carpet fringe, one of  two habits we have been unable to break him of (the other being his inability to greet people without leaping on them and licking their faces). We have accepted him with all his foibles, as he has accepted us with all of ours. I think it was the best $50 we ever spent.

So, you might be asking yourself,  what does any of this have to do with the picture above and Django’s little felt avatar? Debbie Michelsen and Dan Anderson, owners of The Furry Tail in Enchanted Hills, became friends over Django’s many baths and our mutual love of animals. They babysat Django often when we went away, and we babysat Oscar and Sienna, two of their dogs, whenever they went away. Oscar was a big golden doodle who took up most of our bed when he came to visit. (Arthur let go of the “not in our bed” rule pretty quickly). We love their dogs as much as we love Django—well, almost as much. When we found out that Oscar had cancer, we were all devastated. He was too young and too gorgeous to leave us.

Debbie is an artist, and she had started to work with felt pictures and three dimensional replicas of all sorts of animals. The loss of Oscar affected us deeply. Debbie had made replicas of Oscar before he died. The likeness was unmistakable. And after he passed, when only his likeness was there in the shop to greet me, these made me sad but also made me smile. Being a realist, for the most part, I know that Django is now eight years old. If we are incredibly lucky, we might get eight more. And so, I decided to ask Debbie to make us a Django. If I have a Freud doll, why can’t I have a Django doll?

Never ‘just a dog’

Django eyes his avatar with some suspicion. I wanted to position him in the photo looking at his replica, but I knew he would succeed in grabbing onto it with his teeth and chewing it to pieces within seconds. Django senses something strange, something not quite right about this copy. He cannot imagine, cannot know that one day, this will be all we will have to hold in his place. If the order of things proceeds as it should, we will have many photos, one gorgeous pencil sketch of him on the wall (by Lynda Miller), and this little felt replication to remind us of him.

I have friends who would say I am ridiculously sentimental. He is “just a dog.” How can a tiny felt creation of him possibly bring you comfort? And isn’t it morbid to concern yourself with his death when he is still vibrant and healthy? Ah, I say in response, it is better to consider it now than when he’s gone. And if you find it foolish, you probably do not belong to the Critter Club. And if you must ask what the Critter Club is, well, you most likely never will.

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