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For the Love of Dog

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” — Will Rogers

John&Larry(feat)When I was growing up, my father had a one-of-a-kind dog named Casey. Casey was a mutt, the product of a true-to-form “Lady and the Tramp” love story — the offspring of my aunt and uncle’s purebred cocker spaniel, Dagmar, and an unknown neighborhood hound. But though he lacked a pedigree, Casey was special: He was smart as a whip and friendly. He was loyal to all of us in different ways: he was a friend and playmate to us kids (all six of us); and a loyal and uncomplicated best friend to my dad whenever he left the house, went fishing, or simply needed some company other than his wife and six children.

Casey became the dog by which all other dogs were measured. After Casey died, we took in a number of Casey wannabes at the Flynn household, but none of them could compare to the original. My dad, along with the rest of us, tried to bond with each newcomer, but that connection never materialized: Whereas Casey had truly been a member of the family, they were just “dogs.”

I didn’t realize it as a kid, but after Casey died, my relationship to dogs, cats and other household pets was forever different. In a sense, my heart had grown hard toward pets. Pets weren’t family; they were just pets.

Over the years in my adulthood, I watched friends dote on their pets and treat them like children: One friend spent nearly $8,000 trying to save a dog who had been bitten by a rattle snake; others sent dogs to daycare or bought their dogs lavish gifts. I just shook my head in disbelief. I didn’t get it — until I met Larry.

The arrival of Larry was unexpected. My wife and daughter stumbled upon a pet rescue outside of a local pet store, and there he was. He was a horrible looking thing — mangy and dirty, with bald spots where his fur had fallen out. He quite obviously had been ill-treated by his prior owner, but for my daughter, then 8, it was complete and total love at first sight.

My daughter promptly named him “Larry.” She got the name from a TV commercial for a mattress store — “you’re killin’ me, Larry!”  His very first night with us, Larry slept in my daughter’s bed.

He was surprisingly gentle with the kids and didn’t bark incessantly like other small dogs. When my 5-year-old younger daughter would manhandle him, he never snapped or nipped at her. Both of my daughters and my wife fell head over heels for the little mutt immediately.

Not me; I resisted. “It’s just a dog,” I told myself. Just a dog, and not even a manly dog at that. He was a little white fluff ball whose fluff left a lot to be desired.

But at the same time, I could feel it beginning to happen: I was falling under Larry’s spell as well.

Remember the $8,000 my friend spent to save his dog? Well, who’s laughing now? It turned out that Larry came with his own set of problems: In addition to the skin problem, which was treatable, he had a form of epilepsy that resulted in daily seizures. For the first few years, we spent a boatload trying to get Larry’s seizures under control. He still has problems: He vomits pretty frequently in the house and has a long list of medical issues. I can’t tell you how many visits to the vet we’ve made for this little guy.

In spite of all the costs and the late nights spent at the pet ER, I wouldn’t give up that dog for anything. It’s official: Larry is the dog who has finally filled Casey’s… collar. Larry isn’t just a dog; he’s part of the family. Those of you who have pets like this know just what I’m talking about. Dogs, the ones that rise above the mere title of “pet,” don’t just live in your house; they fill a hole in your life you didn’t even know was there. They change you. They make you better.

Sometimes they need expensive anti-seizure medication, and you buy it without batting an eyelash.

Josh Billings, a 19th-century humorist, once said, “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” If more humans were just a bit more dog-like, the world would be a much better place.

(Photo credit: Haley Flynn)

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