“My idea of absolute happiness is to be in bed on a rainy day with my blankie, my cat, and my dog.”
Besides Mom and Dad, there were two other very important members of my new family.
The first was a cat named Fluffy.
She was a Persian, with long, white hair.
Sadly, I have no pictures of her, but I'm quite sure she looked exactly like the cat in this picture.
Fluffy roamed the village, since keeping pets on a leash or in a yard wasn’t the norm in those days.
I don’t know how old she was when I was born or how long my parents had her, but I do remember her quite clearly. Her fur was very soft.
The other member of the family was a German Shepherd named Bozo.
I think Bozo was the closest Mom and Dad came to having a child before they got me.
The word “bozo” means “incompetent.” I don’t know who named him, but that image certainly didn’t fit this elegant, intelligent German Shepherd.
Bozo obeyed many spoken commands, did tricks, climbed ladders, and even carried out errands.
For example, each morning, Dad would walk to his butcher shop with Bozo at his side or a few feet ahead.
Then Bozo would wait patiently out front while Dad went in and selected some meat to have for lunch that day—two pork chops, a round steak, half a pound of hamburger, a small roasting chicken, sausages, smoked haddock (Finnan haddie), etc.
Dad would wrap the meat in wax paper and then brown butcher’s paper, tie it with a string, and then attach the package of fresh meat to Bozo’s collar with more string. He’d tell Bozo to take the meat home, and off Bozo would go, straight as an arrow, never trying to get at the meat. Of course, Dad would sometimes slip a nice bone into the package, too, which Mom would give Bozo after she untied the package.
How many dogs could be trusted to carry the meat home every day?
The big question was, "How would Bozo react to a baby?"
Until I arrived, Bozo hadn’t had a rival in the household. He was fine with Fluffy, who went her own way and didn't challenge the chain of command. But my parents and their friends were concerned that Bozo would become jealous of me, and bite me.
Adding to the problem was Bozo's age. Since the average expected age for a German Shepherd is 10 to 12 years, and Bozo was nearly 10, he was already elderly in dog years. And, of course, everyone knew the popular adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Friends and family felt that the kindest thing my parents could do for all of us was to put him down before something bad happened.
My parents were torn. They were overjoyed to finally have the baby they’d longed for; but Bozo had been a big part of their family for more than nine years and they didn’t want to get rid of him. However, they most definitely didn't want anything bad to happen to their precious baby.
In the end, they decided to wait and watch.
When I first arrived, it was easy. Babies sleep a lot. Mom and Dad just made sure Bozo was outside when I was awake, and they never left him alone with me.
At the same time, they knew they had to let Bozo be around me partly so he'd get used to me, and partly so they could see his reactions. But they were very cautious—as you can see from the hand firmly clasping his collar in this picture.
As the weeks passed, Mom became more worried. I wasn’t sleeping as much, and I was starting to sit up and turn over. By the end of July, when I was nearly seven months old, I was awake most of the day, with only a short nap after lunch.
And I was beginning to crawl.
Bozo had had the run of the house for years, so it wasn’t fair to him to make him stay outside all the time. But if they let him inside when I was awake, once I was crawling it would be impossible for someone to always be there to keep Bozo away from me.
They couldn't put off their decision for much longer.
Crunch time came one afternoon in late July.
The house had no air-conditioning, and on hot days there was often a bit of a breeze in the shade on the porch. As was her custom, after lunch that day, Mom put me outside on the porch in my carriage to sleep while she cleaned up. Normally, she’d have taken Bozo into the house, but that day, she was distracted, and Bozo wasn’t in sight, so she forgot to take him in.
While washing the dishes a short time later, Mom was startled to hear Bozo bark and then begin to growl menacingly.
Terrified, she dashed across the kitchen and flung open the screen door.
The carriage was only a few steps from the door, and her eyes went to it first. She quickly realized that her baby was sound asleep, unharmed.
Her eyes moved to Bozo, who was standing in front of my carriage, eyes fixed—not on the sleeping baby, but on a family friend whose foot was on the bottom of the three steps that led up to the porch.
The man made as if to climb up the next step and Bozo barked again, his hackles bristling in full guard dog stance.
The man took his foot down and Bozo became calm and just stood watching him.
Mom had never known Bozo to bark like this at anyone before. She spoke sharply to him.
Her friend, who had been to the house many times and knew Bozo, laughed. “No, don’t you see? He’s fine until I try to come up on the porch. He’s protecting the baby.”
Mom told Bozo to stop barking, that everything was okay. After that, he didn't bark when her friend came onto the porch and approached my carriage to look at me.
A few days later, the same thing happened when some friends came over while Mom and Bozo were both outside with me in the carriage. Mom realized that until she said it was okay, Bozo was going to make sure that no one set foot on the porch when I was in my carriage.
So Mom began leaving Bozo outside with me every day. He’d lie down between the carriage and the steps, and Mom was able to get her housework done in peace. Townspeople learned to call out to Mom and wait for her to come outside before they attempted to step onto the porch.
It took a bit longer to convince Mom and Dad that Bozo and I could be on the floor or the grass together, but eventually they realized there was no danger—Bozo had accepted me as a member of the family.
Apparently, some old dogs can learn new tricks.
My best friend
Bozo must have been very tolerant, because as you may be able to make out from this picture, my few "toys" included a pot and a spoon. And I didn’t spend my time pretending I was stirring soup, either. I was actually very noisy, using the pot as a drum most of the time.
As I grew older, Bozo became my closest friend.
Until his death at the advanced age of 18, he was the only living being with whom I shared my deepest thoughts.
For most of my life, I’ve told everyone I have a terrible memory. It's true. I really couldn’t remember more than a couple of things from before I was 6 or 7. But the more I worked on this book, examined the pictures we had, and read the few letters, the more memories came back to me. Sometimes, one memory opened doors to a lot of other memories; other times the memory was like a single frame from a movie, where you see just one scene.
One of those scenes is of Bozo sleeping on his side on the faded brown linoleum underneath a grey and chrome kitchen table surrounded by chrome chairs with red upholstery. Bozo's legs are stretched straight out in front. In the space between his front legs and stomach is a large blob of white cat fluff, nestled as close as possible. Both cat and dog are sound sleep.
If you asked me to describe a picture of contentment and safety, that might be it.
Can You Relate?
Did you have a pet before you had a child? Or did your parents have one when you were born? If so, how did I work out?
Have you ever experienced a problem getting a pet and child to bond?
. . .
LoveChild: Life Lessons from an Ugly Duckling is the story of my struggle to adjust to the life I was given, and my eventual discovery that, not only had I become a swan but, contrary to my perceptions, I had always been one. Though I didn't realize it until many years later, my life was part of a much bigger plan that all made perfect sense.
I'll be blogging my story once a week.
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