Autobiography, Writing Your Story

Pets in our Family Histories

Milkbone nary a year old

Milkbone nary a year old

Yesterday, January 29th, was our dog’s 6th birthday. As I sat on the floor watching him rip open his birthday gifts – admit it, you buy your pets gifts, too – I thought about how much our animals mean to us. If you have a cat, dog, or goldfish, odds are you consider them part of your family. If you do think them part of your family, why not talk about them in your autobiography or include them in your family history?

Milkbone came to us when he was about five months old. He was born in West Virginia where his parents and brothers and sisters on a farm. Both his mom and dad were purebred English Springer Spaniels so he has a quality lineage. While we never registered him with the American Kennel Club, he’d be eligible if we ever decided to do so.

I still remember the day I picked him out. I was kneeling in the dirt yard of this farmhouse surrounded by all these wild puppies running to and fro. Each had a very similar black and white pattern so I wondered how I’d pick the one that would live with us. As I scanned the yard, I didn’t notice one who trotted up to me. I felt a tiny lick on my hand. Our eyes met and I knew in an instant that he’d be part of our family.

The truly odd thing is that I’ve never been a dog person. Growing up we always had cats. The only dog I remember in my life was one we called Peppy. He was a large black dog that my father kept outside tied to a tree. I don’t remember much about him other than the day he ran away. One day my sister and I went outside to play with him but he was gone. Poof. Never to be seen again.

Cats were par for the course in the Cole household. We had Fluffy and Salty – both at different times. Salty crawled under the cast iron bathtub one day and died and dad had to scoop him out. When we lived on Old Lake Shore Road in Derby, New York, we fed the strays. The two I remember most were Short Tail and Soft Ball Head. The latter had a head the size of a soft ball. None of the strays liked to be petted. However, if you moved real slow and had food in your hand, once in a while they’d let you touch them.

When I lived with my mother after my second divorce (!), we had a cat named Reba (named after Reba McIntire). Reba was a calico and one nasty cuss – most likely because I liked to fight with her and get her all riled up. Anyway, she grew fatter and meaner and spent her very long life with a bad disposition. After I moved out, Reba stayed with mom. The two seemed to have a mutual agreement but they were never “friends” in a pet-human sort of way.

So why did I get a dog? When Christine and I were married, I received military orders to West Virginia. After moving there, I thought it would be a good idea to get her a companion to keep her company while I was at work. Whether it was a good idea is a matter of opinion. Nevertheless, I still remember the look on Christine’s face when I walked through the door. “That’s a puppy?” she said. “He’s huge!”

True, our new puppy was big. He was about five months old and was already bigger than a large racoon.

After we brought him home, the first question was what to name him. The obvious choice was to name him after the treats we had: Milk Bone. It’s true, Milkbone Cole was named after the dog snack. The next question was why he wouldn’t bark. Looking back on it, both Christine and I laugh. For the first few days we thought Milkbone couldn’t bark. He hardly made a noise. One day, when we least expected it, he let out a sharp woof. He hasn’t stopped since…

Milkbone on his 6th birthday

Milkbone on his 6th birthday

Having a dog can be challenging. For the last six years we’ve had to walk him, feed him, play with him, bathe him, and pick up his poop. He needs constant grooming and he often needs vet visits. Milkbone suffers from a remarkably sensitive stomach. One small bite of anything other than his normal dog food will give him the runs. Heck, he was even bitten by a Pit Bull – a very scary situation that ended with 50 stitches in his upper cheek.

Milkbone has been with us in Hawaii and California. He’s visited Massachusetts and New York. He is a well-travelled animal.

Christine has taken the lion’s share of raising our puppy to dog-hood… and you can tell. She handles him wonderfully and he knows it. He loves her so much that she can’t even go to the bathroom without Milkbone trotting closely behind.

Milkbone is part of our family. Despite the frustration I sometimes have with living with a dog, I’m glad he’s around. As I once said to my wife, “Milkbone brings me great joy.” And he does.

If you have a pet that you love, why not talk about him or her in your family history, too?

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