The earliest memory I have of a family dog from my childhood was a black Labrador named Duke, and it is only one memory. At age two or three I rode on his back and he brushed by a tree, close enough to knock me off.
When I was four we adopted a Chihuahua-Rat Terrier mix and named her Taffy. We were still living on Acacia Avenue in Antioch, California, the town in which I would live until I was twenty.
Taffy came from a litter of puppies that were born in a home somewhere in the vicinity of 6th and G Streets, not far from Florine, my babysitter at the time. My grandma and grandpa, who lived in the neighboring town of Brentwood, adopted one of Taffy’s brothers, and at my suggestion, named him Feisty.
Taffy was more my brother Tom’s dog than anyone else’s. If Tom was holding her I would sometimes run over and play-hit him just to get Taffy riled and cause her to chase after me. A pissy little thing, she would yap incessantly at times, snap at the slightest thing, and go after the mailman any chance she got. One day the mailman kicked her across the yard, so we figured we had better take more care on keeping her confined.
On one of our trips to Bodega Bay, where my dad commercial fished, we made the mistake of bringing Taffy along. She kept pooping on the docks, and my dad, mortified, threatened to use her as bait if we ever brought her again.
Taffy and me, near Bodega Bay
Back then we were a poster family for irresponsibility when it came to spaying or neutering, and over time Taffy would have four litters.
Once when I was about seven and we were living on Minaker Drive, I sicced Taffy on a girl named Stephanie who had a slight crush on Tom. I don’t think it was a jealousy thing so much as just wanting to see what would happen. I remember seeing the girl running down the street and Taffy leaping up and biting her as she ran. The sight was quite comical to me, but the humor soon gave way to the sight of Stephanie, her younger sister Sherry, and their mother all marching down the street toward my house. I’m not sure where Tom was at the time, but I hurriedly gathered Taffy and ran inside my house to hide. My parents were at work, so I was alone at the time.
The knocks came fast and furiously on our front door. Taffy and I stayed secluded in the bathroom, not coming out until the commotion subsided. A few minutes later the knocks resumed and we retreated to the bathroom again. I found out later that the second set of knocks were from a police officer.
Long story short, Animal Control was supposed to come the next day and take Taffy away from us. Tom was in tears over the thought of losing his dog to something so senseless, but the next day came and went, and no Animal Control.
Taffy had a bad habit of pooping and peeing behind one particular chair in our living room. You would see her walk behind it, then a minute later, either slink or scoot back out.
After Taffy’s last litter one of her breasts stayed large and hardened. We weren’t sure of what the problem was, and our financial situation at the time was not stable enough for vet visits, let alone any surgery her condition might require.
Taffy, a litter and me.
Taffy slept in an old wooden doll cradle in our garage. One afternoon I came home from 6th grade to find the cradle empty and on its end in a corner of the garage. I asked my mom what happened, and she said she had taken Taffy to the vet and had her put to sleep. Back then, in my world, animals were so disposable, and didn’t pack the caliber of family members. Besides that, Taffy was seven, and at the time, it seemed she had lived a long enough life.
Although I didn’t cry over Taffy’s death, losing her still left an impact, especially when I found out years later that my mom had lied to me about having her put down. About five years before her own death, Mom admitted to me that she had instead enlisted an older cousin by marriage, Robert, to take Taffy to the pound and leave her. She more than likely stayed there for a few days, awash in confusion and fear, with no hope of someone adopting her, before meeting her demise.
My mother admitted to me several years before her own death that she could be cruel when it came to animals. This surprised me, as Mom had an unfortunate dog experience when she was around ten. Her family was in two separate cars making the dusty drive from Texas to California. The family dog, a Chihuahua named Tiny, was with them. Somehow during one of the stops at a gas station there was a mix-up where Tiny got left behind. When they realized something was amiss, both cars turned around and went back, but Tiny was never found. Mom’s mother was in tears. When Mom was telling me the story, she added, “I imagine poor little Tiny, left behind and wandering around, wondering what happened to us.”
A sad story that made me cry, but even more so, left me wondering why my mother didn’t learn from it back then. We have numerous opportunities in life to make up for past hurts, yet so often we don’t take advantage of them. “Kelly,” Mom confessed to me around the same time, “you have to understand, when you were little, kids and animals were just nuisances.”
We can’t force others to learn and grow from life experiences; we can only work on ourselves. Fortunately my husband Chuck and I are on the same page where our pets are concerned. We have spent $2200 on back surgery for a dog, and countless thousands more where their health and care are concerned. Each dog we adopt brings with it basic costs of food, toys, regular veterinary visits and boarding when we go on vacation; throw in the inevitable emergency care at different points in that pet’s lifetime, and well, that’s what credit cards are for, if necessary.
As I write this, my Boston Terrier Olive hops up on the ottoman in front of me and leans forward for a scratch and nuzzle. She, like her siblings, lives the good life, not wanting for much, and quite oblivious to the fact that part of their good fortune has a lot to do with a less fortunate dog from my childhood.