I was pretty excited when I read one of our stories in the newspaper the other day about some Mattoon residents working together to create a dog park in the city.
Then I realized a dog park is for the canines to hang out and play together, not necessarily for humans to go play with the dogs.
Yes, I'd probably be that weirdo hanging out at the dog park fence, offering the pets treats in exchange for a little dog slobber from a lick on the hand. I'd annoy the owners by asking if I could pet their dogs.
But then, that would feel like freeloading. I suppose I should get a dog of my own. I'm just working all the time and don't feel it would be fair to a pet to be alone so much.
We almost always had dogs and/or cats when I was a kid (outside, of course). My dad named some of them after Louis L'Amour-related characters or titles, such as Ferguson, a la the Ferguson rifle.
We had a German Shepherd named Chancy -- if I'm remembering correctly -- when I was small enough to ride her like a horse. Then, for a while, we had no dogs, as they would get out on the Clarksburg blacktop inevitably and get hit and killed, despite efforts to keep them contained.
We had cats who roamed free outside -- that's the way it was in the country -- and some of them met the blacktop-and-shovel routine, too.
But that was just the tough part of having pets. Mostly, it was a fun time.
We had an old mama cat who seemed to always have kittens or a brood on the way. Mom and Dad often went to the woods to find where she'd hidden the little ones, then bring them up to our yard for safekeeping. Tomcats would kill them if they could get to them, so Dad built a cat house for the mama and babies.
Now, about this time when I tell this story, my friends laugh because we had a "cat house" in our backyard. But that's what it was. Dad put a little shingled roof on it and a small door, with screening on it, that could be closed and locked at night to keep Mama and babies safe.
What's so different between that and a dog house? Dad made a few of those over the years, too. One time, for our Pekingese-poodle (peekapoo) mix Bandit, he used an old small deep freeze for a dog house. Add some straw and a front with a door, and you can't get much warmer than that, huh?
Bandit was the real "first dog" that we had because we picked him out as a puppy from my grandma Weaver's. He was a good dog. Dad tried to build him a fence for a pen, but he jumped out every time, so we had to resort to keeping him on a chain when we weren't out for walks.
When we'd go mushroom hunting or wading in the creek, we'd often take Bandit along, and of course he was glad for the room to roam.
He went to live with a family friend when my family moved from out in the country south of Shelbyville into town. That was tough.
It seems we always had kittens around in the country. I even have a photo of Mom crouched down, trying to dole out food for them, and a fuzzy yellow striped kitten sitting on her upper back just looking up innocently at the camera.
I like cats, but I have to say that I prefer dogs. They just seem more attentive to humans than the felines.
And isn't that why we get pets? For the attention? At least, that's one reason.
In adulthood, I've had a female and a male Pug, a black Lab and a Rottweiler. I won't count the Siamese cat who once used me as her litter box. I have blocked her from my mind. I did also have a mostly white cat with a stripe right down the middle of her head, who I called "Penstripe," but I was standing right there -- unable to do a thing -- when she got hit and killed on the road, and I don't like to think much about that.
I've written about Henry, my Pug, and Koeby, my Rottweiler, here before. Once upon a time, it was pretty typical on a Saturday evening to find Henry and me in my recliner watching TV -- well, I'd watch TV and he'd lay his chin on my knee and snore -- and Koeby flopped on the couch with his head hanging over one arm of the sofa.
They were good boys, and I miss them.
Now, though, I'm so accustomed to doing things alone that I don't know if I'd truly like to have a dog or not. They're a long commitment, you know -- and anyone who doesn't commit to years of good care and love had best not get a dog in the first place.
I'm not sure what kind of dog I'd get now. I might want one of the same breeds, but I'd really rather get a shelter dog just on the principle. Then again, they can be hard to match with an owner and you don't know their history, so that can be a gamble that's hard on new owner and pet alike.
Still, it's worth a shot. My sister Kim's husband Norman has a German Shepherd mix named Benny -- oh yeah, he's the family dog, but he's really Norman's dog.
All my nieces and nephews have grown up with Benny. He's gone on many a camping or canoeing or kayaking trip with us. A couple of years ago, we borrowed a two-man kayak, and Kim actually put Benny in the front and paddled him around on Lake Shelbyville.
You should have seen the look on his face! If a dog could grin, that was what Benny was doing, sitting up proud and excited in that kayak.
Benny goes with Norman almost everywhere. He's getting old now, so he's slowed down, but they take walks almost every day. When I stayed at Kim and Norman's house this fall, and wasn't walking a whole lot due to my sciatica, Benny and I took easy strolls around the park. He's such a good dog.
The toughest thing about having a pet is that they almost always die before the owner. That makes many people want to never have another dog ... and others inclined to run out and get a new puppy right away.
I just try to enjoy the memories of "the boys" (Henry and Koeby) and not think about the sad part.
Maybe I'll get a pet rock. All you have to do is dust them. And if you take them for a walk, they don't stop and sniff every 10 feet or so.
I know. It's not the same.
By the way, don't forget that Charleston already has a dog park. It's near the Rotary pool. The Charleston Area Dog Club is a great group (217-345-3576).
Maybe I'll go over there and hang out at the fence. Surely I can get some free TLC from a few dogs there to play with their fellow canines.
Silly things. I'm fun for dog play, too. Pretty sure I could catch a Frisbee in my teeth if I really tried.