It’s a new year and while I am making plans and looking forward, I am also in a reflective mood. Lately my mind has been wandering to memories of my childhood dog, who at the wise old age of 5, I named Charlie Brown.
I am not sure why I chose to name my brand new puppy, my bundle of joy, after the most depressed cartoon character ever. Though I actually do remember the day I met him …
The day I got my puppy, my best friend, the dog who would be with me for all of my school years, from kindergarten to my senior year of high school, was the day my parents took me to my first dog show.
By the time I was 5, I was already obsessed with dogs. I knew all about Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, the famous dogs from the movies and TV. (Yes, I am dating myself.) I’d read Homeward Bound (well, my dad read it to me), and I dreamed of having a dog of my own. That said, my parents had made it perfectly clear that we were not going to the dog show to get a dog. This was just to be a fun family day out. I fully understood and had no expectations.
We had a great time! I was in heaven looking at all of the various breeds, most of which I’d only ever seen in books. The show was benched, which means that when not in the ring, all of the dogs were in little booths where you could visit them, talk to the various breeders, and occasionally even pet the dogs. At one booth, there were puppies! Adorable Shetland sheepdog (Sheltie) pups that looked just like Lassie! I was in awe. I petted one of the pups for a moment while the breeder was holding it and telling us all about the history and purpose of the breed. I listened intently. Such noble creatures. But then, as I stroked the pup while the breeder was speaking, another little guy caught my eye. He was standing on hind legs in his puppy pen, wiggling and looking me right in the eyes, pleading for a turn to visit and cuddle. I asked the breeder if I could hold that puppy. She obliged.
Once the wiggly-wriggly pup from the pen was in my arms, he settled immediately. I cooed to him, nuzzled his fur, rubbed his round, fuzzy puppy belly, and the world disappeared around us. I was completely content and so was this pup. He smelled so good and tucked his chin right on to my shoulder. We stayed that way for what seemed an eternity to a 5-year-old girl, but I never wanted the moment to end.
I knew I had to have this puppy. I asked my parents, they said no and reminded me that we were just there for fun and were not even considering a puppy. They told me to give him back to the breeder, that it was time for us to go. Then I did something extremely radical for my personality at the time. I resisted. I disobeyed my parents. I dug in. I begged. Pleaded. I got teary and clung to the puppy as if my life depended on it. Highly unusual behavior for me, as I was quite an obedient child. My father was incredibly strict, and he had a terrible temper as well. If anything, I generally went out of my way to lay low and keep out of trouble; I never defied my dad — until this moment.
Don’t get me wrong; this was not a temper tantrum. I would never. It was just a quiet resolve. A strong, unbending defiance, like my parents had never seen before. It surprised them. Heck, it surprised me.
Caught off guard, my parents caved. They asked how much the puppy cost and when the breeder told them, they realized they did not have enough money. It was a lot of money for my young parents. Not to mention, these were the days of cash and check only. No debit cards and even credit cards weren’t accepted very many places. We simply did not have enough money to buy the puppy.
But I was resolved. With tears in my eyes, I held on tightly to my puppy and whispered in his ear, “Don’t worry; I know I’ll get to keep you.” I kissed his little head as his fur soaked up my silent tears while my parents tried to bargain with the breeder. Even she could see that this pup was for me. She agreed to take a small down payment and to trust my parents to mail a check to her once we got home.
I never did let go of that puppy. I held him from the minute he was casually put into my arms at the dog show until we got home later that afternoon.
We bonded immediately that first day, and Charlie Brown was with me for every childhood milestone in life. And I was with him until he took his last breath 13 years later, also while in my arms, my face buried in his soft fur, which soaked up my tears just as it had on the day I brought him home so many years before.
True love never dies though. Charlie lives on in my heart, where he paved the way for so many canine loves to follow. I owe my lifelong passion to him. The best friend a girl could ever have wished for, my constant companion, my Charlie Brown.
Kelly Gorman Dunbar is director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior, where she recruits and trains for SIRIUS Puppy & Training, SIRIUSPup.com, the family business.
Top, the author as a young girl cuddling with her puppy Charlie Brown. Below, the two a little older.
Main article photo by: Photos courtesy Kelly Gorman Dunbar