Family pets are more than just furry, drooling, hair-shedding, furniture-scratching consumers of costly veterinary services.
Like all of history, my childhood life is broken down into distinct eras, each identified by an organizing principle.
The world went through such phases as the Iron Age and the Bronze Age, but my family went through the Chicory Age, the Chips Age, the Shadow Era and the Ralph Dynasty.
This is not a complete list by any means, but those are the names of some of the most influential dogs of my past. Their warm and fuzzy presences (and memories) do help to measure time, and I attach other significant family events to the substantial (but still all too brief) spans of their lives.
The Ralph Dynasty took place in the late 1970s on a hobby farm where my family lived. Farm life being the biological free-for-all that it is, this period actually involved a series of other canine interlopers, adoptees, strays and visiting dignitaries, but it was never in doubt who was king dog, even long after Ralph (a German shepherd mutt) had grown old, sedate and footsore.
It just a couple of years after we found Ralph lying stiff and cold in one of his favorite spots that major changes began with all my clan — marriages and divorces, business starts and failures, and the usual tides of life. I ran off to make my own way in the big city and left family (and family dogs) behind.
When I eventually married, I knew my wife was not a dog person, but she was worth it so I took this fact in stride. The kids required a few guinea pigs during elementary school, just to experience the benefits of pet “ownership.” (Note to non-parents: Those quotation marks indicate sarcasm.) When the last of that batch finally went belly up, we replaced it with a painted rock that looks remarkably like a live guinea pig but blessedly requires no feeding or cage cleaning. Pet-starved, I eventually took on a string of overly attached parakeets to mark the years (though their tiny lifespans don’t really amount to “eras”).
I guess I was resigned to a life without a dog dynasty when, out of the blue, my son returned from West Virginia with a surprise. As soon as his car door opened, out bounded Yuna: a rescue dog from coal country — strong, scrappy and happy to be anywhere.
Yuna is an American boxer/pit bull blend, brownish gold, packed with the joy of life and possessing jaws that can disassemble a steel-belted radial tire in five minutes or less. She was a puppy at that first appearance and somehow slipped past my wife’s anti-dog shields. Besides, my son only lives at home for a few weeks or months at a time between his gigs in the film business. How much trouble could she be?
She’s become a gorgeous, full-grown dog (her head is higher than mine when she sits in my lap), bonded to me as her playmate/protector and our yard is littered with the remains of steel-belted radial tires and other chew toys.
My wife knows it’s too late to turn back now. The Age of Yuna has begun.