• Hope Gibbs

Happy National Dog Day!

Growing up in Kentucky, dogs were a constant presence in my life. I was blessed with dozens of furry friends throughout my childhood. Though I loved them all for various reasons, one stood out from the pack, so to speak. For me, it was Brownie, a terrier mix. The second I laid eyes on him, I knew he was different from the other Gibbs crossbreeds that called our clover-covered yard home. He was a gentle boy, and didn’t intimidate me like the rambunctious bird dogs my father kept for sporting reasons. He had a calming presence that I’d never encountered before. Though the whole family loved Brownie, for some reason he chose me to be "his" person. I was the one he ran to first and followed around our fields. It was my lap he favored when we sat on our porch on lazy summer days. We had a beautiful relationship, and just like a first love, the person who captures your young heart, the first dog that takes a shine to you, will always remain with you forever.


After Brownie sadly crossed the Rainbow Bridge, more dogs came into my life. First came Pudding, a white Pekingese. He had the kindest eyes and the biggest heart. After college, I adopted Tabor, a mischievous Jack Russell, who was always getting into trouble. His two Saint Bernard "siblings" were always coming to his rescue. Then there was Gracie, the Great Dane, who had a penchant for killing racoons, squirrels, and the occasional possum who dared to cross into our yard. She liked to bury them upside down, only leaving their tiny feet exposed in the mulch around our house. It was like living in a Stephen King novel, but that sweet girl, other than her hunting instinct, watched over my boys like they were her own.


I’ve always considered dogs to be God’s greatest gift, a source of joy and comfort. Truly, a man’s best friend. That is, until one dog changed my perspective completely.


In December of 2015, while on a mini-vacation with my husband, he received a phone call from our daughter. I sat in my lounge chair, soaking up the Floridian sun on my pale freckled skin, not paying attention to their conversation. That is, until I heard the word "Harley." The second that name hit the air, I bolted from my chair. I knew exactly why she’d called. My darling daughter wanted another dog, but this wasn’t just any dog, mind you. This one was fast approaching his golden years and had a reputation. A sordid one at that.


She explained how Harley was no longer "playing nice" with the other occupants of his temporary home since he was used to living with a single person with no other animals around. Apparently, Harley hated other canines? What dog hates other dogs? Was he a cat?


Naturally, my first instinct was to give our child a resounding no. My house was already full. My husband was constantly traveling, so I was responsible for five children, yes, five, and their crazy schedules. I couldn’t possibly add anything else into the mix. But that wasn’t the only reason I didn’t want another dog. My biggest hesitation was that earlier that year, we lost our beloved Biewer terrier, Ollie, who was the absolute sweetest, most talented dog in the world. He could do a multitude of tricks that we spent hours perfecting. He loved to show-off and, most importantly, he adored our family...and me. I wasn’t ready to allow myself to fall in love again because I was still in mourning.


I tried the delay tactic that many parents have in their arsenal: "We’ll talk about it later, sweetheart," hoping her excitement would dwindle and she’d forget about bringing home this monster shih tzu from Alabama. However, my daughter was quite determined. After dozens of more calls from her over a twenty-four hour period, her voice as sweet as July honey laced with a heavy side of guilt, I softened and agreed to adopt Harley, though I was still uncertain. Bringing another living creature into your home is a huge responsibility to undertake. Especially this one since ours would be Harley’s FOURTH home. But, like I said, I’ve had a multitude of dogs throughout my life and I know how to care for them. How bad could this one be? For goodness sake, Harley weighed seven pounds.


Oh, how wrong I was.


The day before Harley’s arrival, I was given his list. You see, he wasn’t coming with a bag of tricks, but rather some diva-like demands. It was like a mini-Mariah Carey was coming to live with us. She has her standards. So did Harley.


When Harley finally waltzed through our door on that January day, I knew he was unlike any canine I’d ever met.


The smug look on his compressed face sent a chill down my spine.


"Who’s the captain now?" that little furball said to me through his chocolate brown eyes when he met my blue ones. I was now the Tom Hanks character from Captain Phillips. I’d just lost control of my ship to something that could fit inside of my purse.


I took a deep breath and went to pet him, welcoming him to our family. However, he looked up at me and gave me a smile. Not a sweet one. He was showing me his teeth. It was his way of letting me know he would have no problem sinking them into my skin. That’s when I knew we hadn’t brought a pop diva into our home; it was more sinister. It was Brad Pitt, circa Fight Club, crashing through my doors, disrupting my perfect suburban life.


"There are three rules to Fight Club."


Now it was time to learn the rules for Harley.


First rule of Harley…He would only eat on white paper towels. No colors. No patterns. No food bowls of any kind for him were acceptable, and his food of choice was chicken. He liked it with every meal. An occasional McDonald’s hamburger would also suffice, as would a hot dog as long as it wasn’t too hot.


Second rule of Harley…His water bowl had to have the freshest H2O in it at all times. It needed to be changed multiple times a day. If it didn’t meet his standards, he would bark at me until I obeyed.

Third rule of Harley…He refused to sleep anywhere other than in a bed. That meant my bed. Not my daughter's, but mine. Of course, he chose my side and not my husband's. It was like sleeping with a rattlesnake. I couldn’t make any sudden movements so as to not interrupt his slumber.

Fourth rule of Harley… Yes, I’m aware that there are only three in Fight Club, but this dog isn’t just any dog. He had to be dressed at all times. You see, he had a penchant for it. The dog loved clothes, and he came with an elaborate seasonal wardrobe that rivaled my own. At the time, flannel pajamas were his favorite, along with a leather Harley Davidson jacket. Cherry on top, he also came with a thunder coat because he was terrified of storms... which happens all the time in Tennessee!


Fifth rule of Harley…At no time could you ever go near his face with your hand or he’d snap with a ferociousness that would make your blood curl. In his defense, a groomer, before we adopted him, nicked his right eye. It was an awful story, and I empathized, but he growled at me whenever I picked him up.


In the first year of our relationship, Harley never wagged his tail in my direction. Nor did he lick my hand out of gratitude, though he’d snapped at it more than a few times. He never wanted to play fetch or chase a ball. It was beneath him. When I tried to walk him around our neighborhood, he only participated when he felt like it. If the mood struck, he’d lie down in the middle of the street, and no begging on my part could move him. Many of our "walks" concluded with me carrying him back to the house. All my attempts at tricks, like the ones I so enjoyed teaching Ollie, went out the window since Harley could care less about shaking hands or even sitting on command.

Gradually, over time, though, Harley began warming up to me. Well, warming up is a bit of an overstatement, but he finally accepted that neither of us were going anywhere. Perhaps it was the fact that I did everything for him. I fed him. I bathed him. I drove him around town (he loves a car ride), looked after his medical and grooming needs, and sang to him. Yes, you read that right. I made up songs for him. I know it’s silly, but it worked. My husband thought I was positively crazy when I started it, but I knew, deep in my heart, that Harley liked it.

But music only got us so far. Where Harley and I truly bonded was late at night in my writing chair. The year after Harley took over "my ship", I began writing. At first, I really didn’t know what I was trying to accomplish, but after the house was quiet and the dishes were put away, I’d curl up on my living room chair and start typing away in the dark with my little furry ball next to me.

Today, I cannot sit in that chair without him. He won’t tolerate being left on the floor. Pushing me and my comfort aside, he sleeps next to my right hip while I furiously type out sentences before pounding the delete key. He’s been with me on my writing journey from the start and has been by my side as I worked on WHERE THE GRASS GROWS BLUE, my debut women’s fiction novel coming out in 2023. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As the years have passed, he no longer sleeps at my feet. Now I’m greeted by a toothless, snoring Shih Tzu and his unique breath who’s taken over my pillow most mornings. He no longer snaps at me or growls. He’ll even roll on his back for a tummy rub occasionally. We’ve found our rhythm. We are an old married couple now. We still argue, though I’m the one providing the dialogue, but we also cuddle. He loves to sit on top of my chest if I’m on the couch. There’s a deep understanding between us now.

It is not lost on me that I’m now Harley’s emotional support person. His sight is not what it used to be and his hearing is almost gone, so he depends on me for everything. If you’ve never had the opportunity to take care of a "geriatric" dog, you are missing out. Trust me, it’s the honor of a lifetime. Even one who really doesn’t like you all that much.

Harley and I were two souls thrown together against our wills. Through a lot of trial and error, ups and downs, we somehow formed a unique bond. One I’m not sure I will ever be able to replicate with another animal. Somewhere along the way, we became friends, and, dare I say it, we even found love.

Until next time…