Our lives

For this writer, dogs are the animal of choice

March 18, 2012 

CHRISTINE.AL.030612.JEL

Christine Gilbert.

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com

  • New columnist This week’s new Our Lives contributor is Christine Gilbert, the third of our new voices. Christine has lived in the Triangle only about six months. Although she came here from Connecticut, she was raised in Arizona and lived in Alaska for 20 years, where she went to work on the pipeline. (There was also a stop in Europe.) Now settled in Apex, she tutors students in science and math. She’s adjusting to all that’s new about life around here, and she’ll be sharing her new adventures with you. (If you missed our first two new writers, find them at www.newsobserver.com.)

I come from family of animal lovers. We had horses, geese, ducks, cats, fish, gerbils, tarantulas and cockatiels. There were always animals everywhere; our days and nights consumed with care and companionship. However, the primary animal present in childhood was “the dog,” which was often “one of the dogs” or “whichever of the dogs” that happened to be around when a childhood adventure was about to take place.

Today, most of us have downsized compared with the chaos of our youth. My sister lives with one dog. I live with two. My niece dedicates her life to finding lost kittens and bringing them home; my oldest brother dedicates his life to stopping the exponential influx of kittens that he finds when he arrives home. My younger brother works with dogs on his job and has a few around the house. We all own well-used vacuum cleaners and lots of rolls of tape to remove fur.

Many of us have purebred dogs we have gotten through rescue associations or kennels culling their non-show quality dogs. I have two Shiba Inus. Several siblings have German shepherds. Some dogs are Humane Society rescues of unknown genealogy.

A perfect example of our family’s canine addiction was during the Westminster. Facebook posts went back and forth, each member stating which breed they thought should win, making it the longest Facebook series of posts ever made by family and friends. Most of my family stood behind the German shepherd; I wanted the Dalmatian to win. In the end, we all were just cheering for the dogs.

My mother is a German shepherd person. My father gave her a puppy as a wedding present, and she was addicted from that moment. Throughout her life, she has shared her home with several German shepherds as well as Great Danes and various rogue strays that wandered to our home.

Mom raised the dogs as she raised us children: no nonsense and high expectations. After the passing of her last dog, she swore she would not get another. “They take too much energy.” “I want to travel without worry.” “It takes so much time to train them.” Everyone knew that this would not be a long-lasting situation.

After she retired and found that she could only redecorate the house so many times, she opted to foster a dog for the regional service dog association. This dog is not a German shepherd.

It is a black Labrador with the deepest brown eyes and a face of angelic innocence.

My parents suffer from Grandparent Syndrome with the dogs of their children. When they come over to my house, they break the cardinal rule of “Don’t feed the dogs from the table,” with their response of “oh, once won’t hurt.” Trust me, my dogs learned that trick quickly and learned who were the eager participants in their desire for civil disobedience. Every dog knows where the treats are kept in my parents’ house, and they know how to “sit pretty” again and again, with eager ears and expectant faces.

I mentioned that my mother raised both dogs and children with uncompromising rules. Now arrives a little puppy with big feet, coal black with floppy ears and those brown pools of devotion, accompanied with an extremely mischievous nature. She is the apple of both my parents’ eyes. “It’s all just being a puppy,” they say as she pulls shoelaces and chews them while you are sitting. “She is so cute,” they say as she attempts to steal a sandwich off the coffee table. “We all make mistakes,” they say when “accidents” happen. There is a new baby in the family, and she is an adored addition who can do no wrong.

This Labrador is going to make an excellent service dog, I have no doubt. She is intelligent, outgoing, eager to learn, and has that ever so fun puppy energy one can not resist socializing with her. But as my parents like to say, she is not in a service dog program; she is in the “gifted and talented” program of dog obedience. In the meantime, before her real schooling starts, she is a priceless addition, with a mission she is yet to understand because there by the door, is another shoelace to chew.

c-gilbert@live.com

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