Duke turns 10 years old today (photo by Mark Peacock)
“I talk to him when I’m lonesome like;
and I’m sure he understands.
When he looks at me so attentively, and gently licks my hands;
then he rubs his nose on my tailored clothes,
but I never say naught thereat.
For the good Lord knows I can buy more clothes,
but never a friend like that.”
W. Dayton Wedgefarth
I remember the first time I realized I might actually care for this dog. Before that moment, I’d had about 4 years of grudgingly tolerating this hyperactive beast everytime I’d visit my parents in Ohio. The moment of realization came a few days after a trip to Ohio, during which I noticed that Duke (our family dogs always had royal names…Queen, Baron, Duchess, and finally Duke) might be calming down some in his maturity and may even have a sweet side to him…when he wasn’t barking, running, jumping, or slobbering. I might have even petted him once or twice during that visit.
Then came the call from my dad that Duke was missing. He’d disappeared the day before and they’d been all over the countryside looking for him and asking neighbors and local farmers. I felt sad for my Dad, but figured Duke would show up. He’d occasionally run off before to frolic with local farm dogs (and by frolic, I mean he probably fathered puppies all over that county) and he always came home. But then came day two, and still no Duke. By day four, I was calling my parents morning and evening asking if he’d been found. That was the moment — the moment I realized I cared about the dumb dog. I was elated when on day five, Duke was found four miles away where he had wandered up to a strange house, lost and hungry. (Fortunately the UPS man delivered a package to that house that day and recognized Duke — after all, he’d been greeting him with full barking vigor in our driveway for four years.)
A few years after that, my parents decided to move and go back to college. Surprisingly, the hardest part of that entire life-changing decision was deciding what to do with the dog. They couldn’t take Duke with them to college. Perhaps they’d have to give him away. That’s when my heart nudged my head and I called Dad and said, Bring him here. (It was also a bit of guilt I felt considering the years Dad put up with every stray animal I brought home as a child — cats galore; a homeless gerbil that hid in my friend’s desk at school for a few days before I snuck him home; Houdini the Hamster that escaped from his cage frequently and lived in my dresser…until Queen got a hold of him — no worries, he survived but was forever blind in one eye; the rabbits I adopted in high school as part of a quickly-abandoned FFA project; a rat I felt strangely compelled to buy at the pet store my junior year of high school; and somehow I also get blamed for a few guinea pigs along the way, too). But never had a family dog been mine. Dogs were the enemies — they chewed on my hamster (and a few Barbie dolls), chased my cats (at the encouragement of my brothers), snored under my bed at night, and left foul odors and slobber everywhere they went.
But I called Dad and made the offer. And soon after, Duke came to live with me. All 102 pounds of him. The rule was that he wasn’t allowed in the house. That rule lasted about a week. That’s all it took for me to go from caring about the dog to loving the beast. Even though he’s big and clumsy and drools and snores, he’s such a lovable guy. He’s fun loving and happy-go-lucky, even in the old arthritic pain that consumes him these days. And surprisingly to me, he’s loyal in a way that no other pet had ever been loyal to me. The way he looks at me with complete trust, admiration, and love is amazing, especially since it’s so undeserved. (I’ve jokingly said to friends that the day I find a man to look at me the way Duke does is the day I’ll finally get married.) He’s now been here almost four years — much to the chagrin of Sadie, the cocker spaniel who really owns and runs my house and the neighborhood — and I’ve never regretted the day Duke worked his way into my heart.
And I thank my Dad for sharing him with me — we’ve both had the joy of Duke following at our heels on long hikes through the woods, looking down into those trusting eyes, nightly rituals of sharing our popcorn, and being loved unconditionally and passionately every time we come home from a sometimes unloving day in the world. Yes, it’s true — Duke is a true friend. Here’s to hopefully several more years of this joy in my life!