Accounting for Dogs – by Nancy Ling

Nancy Ling is an Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read the published version of Nancy Ling’s column in the January 30, 2014 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

As with many children growing up in the seventies, I had a love of dogs that began with one television show—Lassie. Didn’t every kid long for heroic friend to push all the world’s bad guys into a well? While Lassie took less than 30 minutes to solve her weekly drama, I’d wait on the edge of my seat for the commercials to wrap up and a happy ending to occur.

Growing up I spent many a day plotting to bring a steadfast, four-legged companion into my life. As an only child, I’d dreamed of having an older brother to protect me. However, I decided a dog seemed more practical. I’d grown up hearing stories of my father’s escapades with his Cocker Spaniel, Skippy. Surely, he’d want those same memories for his own child, right? Unfortunately, my father remembered the hard work behind dog ownership, so he devised a plan. If I worked hard and saved up enough money to purchase AND care for a dog, then I could go ahead and pick out a puppy.

So I began saving. Then the day came to head off to the Farmington Savings Bank. That’s when I opened my “Dog Account” with less than twenty-five dollars. After that I headed to my local library to check out several books on dogs. My favorite was a book called Dogs by Joan Elliott (a 1978 copy is in the catalog).  On its cover was a pooch that looked like Benji. What a surprise I had that Christmas when I unwrapped my very own copy.  I sat for hours poring through pages of all the different dog breeds. By the last page, I knew exactly what type of dog I wanted—a miniature Rough Collie. I scribbled his name on my bank account book that same day…“For Sherlock.”

Somehow months grew into years. My father observed me quietly—selling pumpkins from our garden, mowing lawns and, as I grew older, babysitting the neighborhood children. He knew, no matter what happened, I was learning about hard work. I’m sure he also knew that the best of dreams can be deferred, for that was exactly what was happening. Looking back I realize it was the “idea” of owning a dog that intrigued me, more than a dog itself.

By the time I entered college, the writing was on the wall. The account that I’d worked so hard to develop paid for text books, college meals, and extra expenses. My life was moving at full tilt and the thought of caring for a dog was far beyond me. While the idea had captured much of my childhood, my life was complete without a dog. Maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t a dog person after all. And maybe, my father had known this all along.

Still the appeal of a dog never disappeared completely. The topic comes up now and then with my own children. Rather than suggesting a “Dog Account,” I recommend dog-sitting. This way my girls get a taste of dog ownership.

One little Shih Tzu named Diana (Princess Diana, to be exact) took us by surprise. We’d agreed to watch her while her parents were vacationing for a week. We couldn’t help but fall in love with her. We loved her playful romps in the snow and the way she fell asleep next to her favorite toy turtle. Even our parakeet, Sunshine, enjoyed our friendly visitor. At the week’s end, we were sad to see Diana go, but we knew she wouldn’t be our last guest. We’d grown attached to our role as dog-sitters.

Like my own experiences as a child, I also encouraged my girls to discover dogs in books. Certainly, there’s a plethora of resources available at our library for both dog owner and potential owner. One of our family’s favorite DVD series is The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan [Season 1-5]. We love watching Cesar’s “uncanny ability to rehabilitate problem dogs.” The library also has several books by Cesar Millan, including Cesar’s Rules: Your Way to Train a Well-Behaved Dog; A Member of the Family; How to Raise the Perfect Dog; and Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems.

For the true-blue dog lover out there, we have an amazing collection of charming dog stories. One of the current favorites is Giant George: Life with the World’s Biggest Dog by Dave Nasser with Lynne Barrett-Lee. George began his life as the smallest pup in the litter. Soon this “baby” grew to be almost five feet tall to the top of his head, seven feet long and 245 pounds. Sound like any friend of yours? In 2010, George made his way into the Guinness World Records as the Tallest Dog in the World.

Of course, there are other ways to celebrate our canine friends. If you aren’t up to reading a whole story, June Cotner’s book Dog Blessings: Poems, Prose, and Prayers Celebrating Our Relationship with Dogs may be just your cup of tea. As Bernie S. Siegel, MD, writes: “Since I love dogs and relish their company, I love this book and all the wonderful poems and stories about one of God’s most complete creations.” Organized into categories such as Puppies, Devotion and Aging Gracefully, it’s the kind of book that you can savor for years to come.

Or how about taking a camera’s eye view of dogs?  I’d highly recommend picking up William Wegman’s Dogs on Rocks. Wegman is famous for photographing his Weimaraners in various costumes and poses. In Dogs on Rocks, he uses the Maine coast to provide the backdrop for his photo shoots. His collection includes “six dogs from four generations.” Most were taken on Baker’s Island, for any of you Maineophiles, and all are memorable.

Who knows? A dog might await you in the near future. As Tom Ryan experienced in Following Atticus [Norwood Reads – One Book, One Community], dogs have a way of taking us completely by surprise. And maybe, just maybe, I will astonish myself and revisit my old bank account with “For Sherlock” on its cover.

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