By Fred Kusch  

“Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.” ― Colette

If you have read my column, you know I like to start and end with a quotation; this issue’s column will be no different. However, after digging for those quotes, I found way too many to be left out of my message. Before I get to those quotations, though, I have to channel a list of warm memories of loveable creatures who were a part of my life.

My first pet, Skipper, was a 3-month-old puppy found by my Uncle Ed at the side of the road in the dead of winter. I remember him bringing the pup into my life bundled inside his coat, saying to my mom and dad, “Peg, Fred, the kid needs a dog.” Skipper was more than just a dog. He was a core member of the family from that day until he was struck by a car 17 years later when I was a sophomore in college. I wept in my dorm room when I heard the news. 

He was followed by Sean, Misty and Gus. Gus was the son of Misty and one of a litter of eight. Misty was a rescue dog who didn’t much care for men. I know because she regularly bit me. She is part of family legend. Chapter one was when she delivered her first litter in our tent in the dead of summer heat on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Believe it or not, we didn’t realize she was pregnant—we just thought she was fat. So, there we were, three kids under 8, Granny, a dog and four puppies. Can you say circus and stinky in the tent? Her second delivery was in the dead of winter. She had eight puppies. (This time we knew she was pregnant!) She surprised us one night with the delivery in our dining room. Needing to corral the menagerie, we enlisted the old playpen that served our kids to do the job. Oh, and three weeks after they were born, we were scheduled to be out of town for a week. Imagine Granny’s surprise when she arrived to take care of three grandkids and saw eight puppies in the playpen with mom! 

Gus was with us for 17 years. They say that pets at times “channel” their master. Well, at the end Gus couldn’t hear, couldn’t see very well, had poor balance and pooped at will. I would get frustrated and upset with this at times, but wept when we had to put him down. Then I had an “ah-ha moment” recently as I thought about pets channeling their master. I now have hearing aids, my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, my balance challenges me, and while I don’t poop at will around the house, the curse and challenge of prostrate problems is something I deal with! 

I could tell you about Harry the Hamster Houdini who scored a perfect 10 on the half gainer from his cage into the fish tank and drowned. Or, about Sean the Irish setter who chased down prize heifer calves in the field near our country home. That action brought about threats of a lawsuit from the farmer who owned the cattle. There is much more to tell, but I want to end with a couple of tidbits about our beloved chocolate Lab, Max. There was never a more loveable and mischievous dog than ol’ Max. More than that, she had separation anxiety. We learned that from friends who were kind enough to watch her when we had to go out of town.

 Seems Max didn’t like to be “out of sight, out of mind.” One time she was put in the basement. Wanting to be back with our friends, she gnawed a hole in the bottom of the basement door. Immediately afterward, she was put in an outside kennel where she promptly gnawed through the wire mesh in an attempt to get out. 

She was also a voracious eater. She once ate a whole loaf of bread off the counter, bag, twist tie and all. We found out when she pooped the bag out! Yep, if you were missing any food, the first place you needed to look was in her basket or open kennel. 

All these stories remind me to remember and then smile. Why? Simple, I say. They were members of the family as well. Max, I miss you most of all. 

Now I challenge you to go hug your pet and scratch his or her belly.

“Animals are such agreeable friends―they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.” ― George Eliot

“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.” ― Martin Buber

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” ― Anatole France

“I made myself a snowball
As perfect as can be.
I thought I’d keep it as a pet,
And let it sleep with me.
I made it some pajamas
And a pillow for its head.
Then last night it ran away,
But first it wet the bed.” 
― Shel Silverstein

Fred Kusch, president and CEO of JFK Associates, is a well-known speaker, author, consultant and business coach. For more information, visit www.jfkassociates.com.