You’d think that a brand new baby and two squabbling older children would be enough to keep a person busy, but for some reason, after the Son and Heir was born, I had this driving desire to get a dog.
A puppy, of course, to match the baby theme — an 11-month old Golden Lab hybrid, starved and neglected by an owner whose only beneficent act was to dump her off, pregnant and sick, at the animal shelter.
(We suspected this reprobate human was an electrical meter reader, since these were the only people toward which Brandy, a dog who loved all of God’s creatures excepting cats, showed any hostility. I’ll never forget the sight of the meter reader leaping over our backyard chain link fence, Brandy’s bared teeth inches from the seat his pants.
Should have called first.)
Brandy chewed the baby’s toys, noshed the heads of the older siblings’ Barbies, stole butter softening in the bowl for cookies, grabbed leftovers off of the counter, inhaled anything and everything other than my mother-in-law’s sweet potato casserole.
The first day we got her, I left the kids with the Norwegian Artist, dutifully snapped on the leash, and went for the inaugural walk to the park, where somehow, when I blinked for a fraction too long, our newest family member clamped her mouth shut around a dead duck.
Do you know how town people react when a dog trots by with a duck dangling from its jaws?
“Drop it,” I commanded.
Brandy clamped down harder.
So I pulled on the thing, Brandy pulled the other way, and I found myself with the foot of a dead duck in my hand.
And so we were inaugurated, incorporating Brandy into daily walks that involved Son and Heir and Flaxen Girl in the double stroller, Eldest Supreme on the princess bicycle, and a studious avoidance of the duck pond. No matter how subtle we thought we were, Brandy always picked up on the signs that we were ready for the daily stroll, to the point that she not only recognized the word “Walk,” but also W-A-L-K.
When we moved to the country, Brandy added chickens, goats, gophers and deer to her repertoire of acquaintances — any ideas that we had that Brandy would chase the deer from our garden were banished the first day when she resolutely refused to look in their direction, pretending, instead, that they were 180 degrees opposite.
“This is not a guard dog,” the Norwegian Artist sighed.
Not remotely. While Brandy — like most Labs — was exemplary in her slavish, groveling desire to please Master, she never actually did anything — other than the daily walk — that Master needed done.
She did not chase neighbor dogs off the property because she didn’t “see” them. Ditto the aforementioned deer. All strangers were friends, unless they looked scary, in which case Master was in charge.
What Brandy lacked in bravery she made up for in sheer gluttony and greed, raiding the garden compost for anything edible and chasing the chickens from their scattered feed. Every year during hunting season, Brandy found and dragged back some discarded deer body part — generally an entire leg.
While this may have seemed like a windfall to her doggy brain, it was actually a curse, since she was obliged to stand 24-hour guard over the remains of the remains. Encircled by cats and chickens, she lunged and growled and looked as fierce as a droopy brown-eyed adult puppy could muster.
But Brandy was a gentle, lovable creature — a family pet that not only put up with the exuberance of children, but actually exhibited a protective aura around them — whose only major fault was an unfortunate taste for all things that were not dog food. In her later years, Brandy stumbled upon a horse tarp with animal feed bread that we were drying for the goats — I think that dog thought she’d died and gone to doggy heaven.
Eventually, she did. Fifteen years old, deaf, blind, and too tired to do more than snort when we headed off for the daily walk, she curled up one summer day under the arborvitae bush where she had dug herself a deep hole and went to sleep.
The Norwegian Artist prepared her grave, scooped her up in his arms, and set her down for her final rest. There is no headstone, but if there were, it would read:
“Brandy: She was a Good Doggy.”