I inherited the dog gene. Some trick of genetics passed down recessive traits from unknown ancestors, two bits of DNA hooked up on my XX chromosomes, and I was born to be a dog lover— unlike anyone known to me in my family. It’s not that they disliked dogs. They simply did not find them essential—like chocolate chip cookies, fried shrimp poboys dressed, and breathing.
Neither of my parents grew up with dogs. My grandfather on my father’s side died in the influenza epidemic of 1919, leaving my grandmother alone to raise two young boys. According to family legend, my father and uncle, at the ages of eight and ten, sawed a hole in the kitchen floor to build a hideout beneath their house on Constance Street. With boys like that, who needs a dog? My mother’s parents were urban farmers, long before that became trendy. They grew vegetables and raised chickens on the lot next door to their house on Henry Clay Street to supplement depression era income and feed their four children. They didn’t need a mutt eating the chickens and digging up the eggplant.
In the forty-five years my parents were married, they owned just two dogs. The first was a snappy little dog named Patsy that my father brought home when I was a toddler. I remember only her sharp teeth and the fact that she attacked every boyfriend who came to visit my older sister. Luckily, Patsy passed on before I reached dating age.
Years later, after I had married and moved out, someone gave my parents a shepherd mix named Rusty. When they went to visit my sister in Atlanta, they left Rusty in the yard and hired a neighborhood kid to stop by once a day to feed him and give him water. To pass the time, Rusty gnawed the screen door off the back of the house and sat on top of his doghouse to chew on the frame of the window that overlooked the backyard. Rusty survived his brief diet of wood and screen. He died of natural causes at the age of ten, closing the book on pet ownership in my parents’ marriage.
When my only sister’s children were young, she and her husband adopted a beautiful, malodorous, slobbery Bassett hound named Rocky. He brought them much joy for many years, but after he died, they ripped up all the wall-to-wall carpeting, replaced it with fresh-smelling rugs, and never looked back.
I, on the other hand, can’t imagine life without a dog or two. I brought home my first stray when I was eight years old. Flopsy was my dog, not the family pet . A sweet black and white spaniel mix, she fit in somewhere between snappy Patsy and door-eating Rusty.
My husband and I have loved a series of dogs. Our first, Bridget, was a dachshund that we were completely unsuccessful at house-breaking. We kept little newspaper “relief stations” in each room of our small apartment. We even needed to carry newspaper into the back yard because she refused to use the grass. Fortunately, the daily newspaper was still in fashion.
Bridget was followed by rescues: Happy, Trouble, Dingo, and Lola, our current dog. There has been some overlap of dogs, but usually we are a one-dog family—my husband’s preference, not mine. Two of our sons also inherited the dog gene, so Lola has frequent visits and play dates with her “cousins,” Boguey, Fritz, and Rosalita, also rescue dogs.
It follows, then, that my first middle grade novel, A Dog Steals Home, is about the bond between children and dogs. It was inspired by the relationship between our young grandson and our old dog, Dingo. Even before our grandson could crawl, he love to reach for Dingo’s fluffy tail. “Dingo” was one of his first words. Now, he enjoys playing fetch with Lola. I’m pretty sure he and his little cousin, who lives with Boguey and Fritz in Alabama, have inherited the dog gene. I hope so.