All animal lovers will tell you, being called an Animal Person is a specific classification.

Most people have a “preferred” pet. For example, I am more of a Dog Person than a Cat Person, though I like cats, and I adore my cat, Roscoe. Some people are Bird People, or Rat People. My friend Mary Beth is a Guinea Pig Person. However, what we all have in common is that we understand the bond between human and creature, and, our preferred pet or no, we can relate to others who have this bond.

You do not have to be an Animal Person to like animals. I have found, people who like animals but are not Animal People are often somewhat insulted to hear you say to them, that they are not Animal People. I had an ex like that. He liked animals fine enough, but did not really understand the appeal of owning a pet. “Too much work,” he said. Cleaning, caring, paying for … etc. He kept making excuses about why we could not get a dog “yet,” and I was just biding my time until the excuses were moot. My favorite one was, we might not be able to get a dog because “[his] sister is allergic.” I lived with him at that house for two years – his sister did not come to visit once. I think he knew as well as I did that he would never be an Animal Person. I said this to him once, and he was upset. “I like animals!” he said defensively. “Of course you do,” I responded. “You’re just not an Animal Person. It’s okay, a lot of people aren’t. I am.”

Anyhow, I digress. People are not born Animal People. Not even people who grow up with animals necessarily become Animal People themselves. Usually there is a defining moment when they cross over from just liking animals to being an Animal Person.

I remember mine.

Shortly after my childhood dog, Tory, died, my grandmother got it in her head that she wanted another dog. A puppy. There were multiple motivations for this, the primary being that my mother had decided to move us out of my grandparent’s house. My grandmother, I think, thought if she got a puppy, I would want to stay and would in turn beg my mother to let us stay. This might have worked if I had been younger, but at 14, I could see through this sort of thing. Even so, when Grandma suggested I go with her to pick out a puppy, who was I to say no? To be honest, I did not think we would come home with a dog that day. Yet, much to my grandfather’s chagrin, we came home with a springer spaniel puppy that afternoon.

We got the dog from a backyard breeder. The people selling the dogs seemed reputable enough. There were two nice looking dogs on the premises who were the mother and father. The puppies looked happy and healthy, and the area the dogs was in was clean. My grandmother wanted one with freckles, like Tory had. He was tiny – one of the tiniest in the litter – and he was very sweet. He snuggled up to my neck and licked my ear. He smelled like puppy. We named him Dudley.

I started to get up an hour early each morning, in order to spend time with the new puppy. I brought him outside in the morning. I fed him, I played with him, and I snuggled him. Mom and Grandpa took turns bringing him to puppy school, and occasionally I went as well. My grandmother, though well-meaning, did little in the way of training the dog. And, for anyone who has ever owned springers, they need a firm hand for training. Regardless, Dudley was a sweet dog. By far the sweetest springer we had ever had (and this was a tough act to follow behind Tory), and he loved me. Sure, my grandmother was home with him all day, and my grandfather and mother trained him, but he was my dog. He knew it, and I knew it. He was the dog that caused me to become a Dog Person.

When we moved out later that year, I missed Dudley terribly. At one point, my mother offered to take Dudley, as my grandmother “could not handle him,” but my grandfather felt it was his responsibility to continue caring for the dog. I was disappointed. I still saw Dudley every day after school, but it was not the same. No morning Jen and Dudley time anymore, which really was “our” time together.

The vet informed us that the breeders gave him to us at “not quite six weeks,” which may have been the reason he got so sick later on. Or maybe it was because his parents were not properly screened and bred. Or, maybe, it was just a fluke. Whatever it was, Dudley developed epilepsy at just 9 1/2 months old. He was having multiple, consecutive seizures a day. It was heartbreaking to watch. The medicine only slowed the seizures, but did not stop them (say, for example, two seizures in one day instead of 10), and it made him terribly anxious. Meanwhile, the seizures kept getting worse. At just 11 months old, he was too sick to keep alive. He was put to sleep.

I was heartbroken. When Tory died, I was sad, because it was my childhood dog. But I was not bonded to Tory the same way I was to Dudley. Also, Tory was 13 years old. He died of old age, not of a horrible disease that claimed him at 11 months old. I still think about Dudley, with fondness as well as sadness. Had he survived, Mom and I probably would have taken Dudley. He might even be still alive, though he would be very old. However, we would never have gotten Max, and I simply cannot imagine life without Max in our lives.

People come into and out of your lives for specific reasons. I believe animals do, too. Dudley came into my life to teach me how to be a Dog Person, and for that I am forever grateful to him. He’s a large reason that I have Finnegan now. Well, I suppose, Max deserves some credit for that, too. Because, while Dudley may have been the first dog I formed that special bond with, and he therefore holds a special place in my heart, I formed it with Max, too, and he holds a separate, even more special place in my heart.

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