Anyone who has read Willie Morris’ book “My Dog Skip” or seen the movie of the same name falls into one of two categories: the admitted criers and the liars.
Morris was an only child, and so his best friend was his dog, a fox terrier. Our four-legged friends remind us of our better virtues. Willie’s bestseller, set in the Deep South in the 1940s, illustrated that our pets are color blind. Skip made friends, who became Willie’s friends. That message remains as poignant and relevant today as when the movie was released 16 years ago.
Dogs teach us other things, like unconditional love, and to stop and smell the roses, the tree trunk or fire hydrant. It’s OK. Life can wait.
All these values were on full display two weeks ago at the Leawood City Pool for the Doggie Dunk. If you are a dog owner and have missed this event, make a note for next year. This was the 12th year of the event, and 266 dogs arrived, according to Kim Curran. Imagine a leash-free dog park at Oceans of Fun with a bit of “Best in Show” mixed in.
And in the middle was my BFF, Bernie Keenan. Bernie, who, to use canine vernacular, was whelped in January 2002, meaning she is 14 1/2. And as any Wheaten owner will attest, Wheatens generally don’t live past 13. In adult years Bernie would be 86. Imagine taking your grandmother to the pool and being surrounded by hundreds of hyperactive kids who just gulped Red Bull. Bernie was looking brilliant with a recent cut and color from Winding River Pet Resort, sporting a green scarf with my niece Mary Hudak serving as her “visiting angel.”
At 5:10 p.m., the pool was already busy.
“Luckily this year we didn’t have any bunny rabbits attempt to make it across the pool deck,” special events coordinator Tony Nichols told me. “We have had pups that get in right at opening and then have to be forced to leave at the end. Two years ago, a Lab swam for two hours straight out in the middle of the main pool. Animal control had to help us with some poles to get him to the side!”
I don’t know if dogs go to heaven, but maybe it comes to them.
It had the feel of the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly. You had the Germans (shepherds, dachshunds, schnauzers); the Irish (setters); the Brits (boxers); the Mexicans (Chihuahuas), and even some refugees — the mixed breed rescues. There were other varieties associated less with nations of origin and instead Leawood ZIP codes — I’m talking about the Labradoodles, goldendoodles, cockapoos, Schnoodles, Aussiedoodles, and some breeds that spellcheck can’t recognize.
And everyone was having a blast. Even though Bernie was far too feeble to jump in with the crowd, she was taking it all in. She just stared at all the activity, but when I scratched behind her ears, her tail moved briskly.
This was Saturday Night Fever for the dogs. Think a canine Tinder. A couple of Labradoodles thought they were on the “Bachelorette.” We saw a sniffing train in the baby pool, which is when three dogs flirt in a chain, while standing in ankle-deep water. Another dog, a schnauzer, wore a red shirt that said “Keep calm, I’m a lifeguard.”
Sure, you had a few dogs whose manners were checked at the door. One dog dropped a Baby Ruth in the wading pool. A few obviously needed to be “fixed.” This much was very apparent: Next year, the grass on the west side of the baby pool will be very green.
My niece loves the rescues, and volunteers weekly at Wayside Waifs, so we sought out these breeds for column material.
“The shelter dogs just kind of have a look about them” Mary told me. “They usually have some markings that you don’t see in other dogs. They are just kind of special. You’re never going to find two shelter dogs that look exactly the same.”
Mary led me to an Italian greyhound inpin named Esky, named for you-know-who. He was adopted by Olathe resident Wendy Melland. “We rescued him from Thankful Friends in Neosho, Mo., back in March. We trained him to be a Pets for Life dog.”
Pets for Life is a program where dogs are certified so they can go into nursing homes and hospitals and visit with patients.
“We have a daughter who spent a lot of time in the hospital and she loved the visits from the dogs. They need to be calm, loving, they need to get along with all types of dogs, they need to not startle easily,” Wendy told me.
“They need to be comfortable around beeping machines, equipment and if someone drops food or medicine on the floor, they need to understand a command to ‘leave it.’”
Wendy’s first rescue – Kenny — came from Great Plains (SPCA) and now serves in this capacity in Lincoln, Neb., where her daughter attends the University of Nebraska studying pre-med. “We found Esky on the internet and we traveled to Neosho, Mo., to get him.”
As Bernie, Mary and I finally left the pool, I couldn’t help but think that if everyone took a lesson from our dogs, the world would be a better place.
When we got to the car, Bernie needed help getting in. As I wrapped my arms around her, her boney frame reminded me that she is at the twilight of her life.
And my thoughts turned to the prose of Willie Morris. When Skip passed, Willie was studying overseas: “He and my mama wrapped him in my baseball jacket. ‘They buried him out under our elm tree,’ they said. That wasn’t totally true. For he really lay buried in my heart.”