I blame it all on Tom Hanks.
Well, maybe it began before Tom. Long before.
Maybe it began when I was a teenager and had my first pug, a little girl named Suki. I loved that little dog, and had to bite back my tears when one of my boyfriends ran over her backing out of the driveway. Not good for anyone.
Later, when I became a mother, I wanted a dog that would be good with my children. I found a great book, THE RIGHT DOG FOR YOU, filled with tests and questionnaires all designed to make sure you got a dog that’d be a good fit for your family. And pugs were the only dog that was small and good with children. Most other little dogs tend to be snippy, but pugs are generally easy-going.
And pugs are a lot like Boxers–same black mask on the face, same short coat, same disposition and amicability with kids. So we got a boxer, Patton, and he was a great dog for our family.
The author of my battered copy of THE RIGHT DOG FOR YOU said that his favorite breed was the mastiff. I’d never seen a mastiff in person, but his description of how they played with boulders like beach balls was . . . interesting. 🙂 And they, too, have black masks, short coats, and are great with children. They even come in the same colors, more or less, as pugs and boxers.
So one weekend my husband was away with the middle schoolers on a bus tour. I was home watching TURNER AND HOOCH, and by the time the movie ended, I had become obsessed with getting a mastiff. (For the record, the dog in the movie isn’t an English mastiff, he’s a Dogge de Bordeaux, or a French Mastiff. But still, he was big and mastiffy, and that was enough for me.)
So when my poor husband arrived home from his trip, I asked (told?) him that I’d found a mastiff in Gainesville, three hours away. And I wanted to go up there RIGHT NOW and get this girl dog. And she was going to be wonderful.
I tell you, it’s a good thing that man loves me. We did drive up there, and we did go out into the woods where these women lived in a trailer and raised mastiffs. Today, that’d be the last place I’d ever buy a dog, but I didn’t know much back then. I only knew that I fell in love with those dogs, and I wanted that little four-month-old girl.
We named her Sadie, and I rode in the back of the car with her all the way home. She was so nervous she threw up on me, but I took it in stride. When we brought her into the house, she was so terrified that she peed right by the door, but I wiped up the mess and did my best to make her feel at home.
Sadie was an apricot mastiff, and I had known enough to ask about hips and elbows. She never had a problem with those common problems in the big breeds, but what they say about early socialization is true–you simply MUST let your puppy be around people and other dogs BEFORE they are sixteen weeks old. Sadie hadn’t been properly socialized, and she would have a problem with strangers for the rest of her life. She came to love our family, but not even twelve weeks with a canine psychotherapist could cure her of her fear aggression.
I learned this: temperament is important. You don’t want to expose guests and visitors to a huge dog who could seriously hurt someone. Better for all concerned if you simply put the dog away in a place where they feel secure when you have guests come over.
Sadie lived to be nine years old, and passed away in her sleep on our kitchen floor. I was out of town, but I knew she wasn’t feeling well as she’d been making a “nest” outside on the Sunday I had to leave town. My husband was going to take her to the vet on Monday morning, but she passed that night.
I remember getting up early–before sunrise–on Monday morning. In the shower, I prayed for Sadie, and asked the Lord to take her home if she was suffering. Better to do that, I reasoned, than leave my husband with the difficult decision or whether or not to put her down.
And the Lord answered that prayer.
I had to speak in several schools that day, and the only way I could was simply not to think about my beloved apricot girl. I still miss her–though our friends teasingly called her “Satan” because she was NOT friendly to outsiders, she sure loved her family.
And we loved her, too.