In 1959, I came home one day with a mongrel puppy. Some nurses at the hospital where I worked were moving and no dogs were allowed in their new accommodations. I couldn’t resist their sweet little pup.
Naturally, my husband, Bud, was surprised, to say the least! We were living in an upstairs flat with almost no yard. He suggested that we name her “Useless.” We had been fans of the western TV show Hotel de Paree where actor Earl Holliman had a scruffy dog with that name.
Useless lived with us for sixteen years and was dearly loved. For years, when Bud was at conferences, people would ask about our family—they seldom remembered our kids’ names, but they always asked about Useless!
Donna Jean Palmberg
Mercer Island, Washington
When I was a newlywed, I went to the shelter and came home with a white and brown spitz/terrier mix I named Tiny. We didn’t have leash laws back then and all the dogs roamed freely. Each morning she barked at the neighbors’ door until they let their dog, Bootsie, out. The two of them trotted off through the yards to collect the last of the trio, a fat beagle whose name I can’t recall.
As it turned out, every morning after leaving her doggie friends, Tiny visited an elderly lady who lived three streets over. She went to mass at the Catholic Church on the corner one morning, slipping in with the parishioners. A neighbor spotted her and tossed the devout little canine out on the street. She showed up at the high school one day, following her super sensitive nose she snuck by the principal and made it all the way to my astonished brother as he was about to enter his classroom. He scooped her up, pulled his shirt over her, and crept down the back stairs and out to his car where he incarcerated her until he could drive her home.
We tied a rope to the clothesline and to her collar so she could run up and down the line. That worked, until she discovered she could chew through the rope. This time, luck was not quite so kind to her. She was hit by a car. She came limping home followed by a kind police officer who wanted to be sure she got home alright. From that day on, Tiny was content to stay at home, guarding the property. While she didn’t weigh more than 15 pounds, she chased a bear off the property staying right at its heels and barking fiercely until it entered the woods. The lady she used to visit had gotten our phone number from the tag on Tiny’s collar. When Tiny no longer came to visit she called to ask if the little dog was OK, she missed her daily visits—which was the first we learned of them!
She lovingly welcomed and helped raise each of our three children and died when they were teenagers. She was an angel in fur. We still miss her.
I adopted Farley from a local shelter. As I walked him around my neighborhood, the children would come to greet him. Five children from two different families asked if they could walk with us—they even wanted to clean up after him to show their parents how responsible they were. One father said I looked like the Pied Piper with Farley on the leash and five children following along. That was nine years ago, and those children still love to greet Farley and take the occasional walk with us.
Santa Barbara, California
When everyone else has gone to bed, I love to sit on the couch with my adorable shih tzus, Chelsea and Charlie. Chelsea puts her face on my chest to hear my heartbeat and Charlie gently pushes in to do the same. One night things turned into a boxing match, and they began growling as they pushed back and forth on my lap. Softly, so as to not wake anyone up, I said, “Basta ya! Enough! Basta ya!”
Just like the knockout by George Foreman in 1994, Chelsea sent Charlie tumbling. Charlie jumped back onto my lap with fierce energy, refusing defeat. The growling and barking grew deeper and louder. I was in shock that my two darling dogs were duking it out right on my lap! There was blood, tears, and biting. At that point I was scared for my life and I cried out for help.
My son leaped from his bed, grabbed a tall glass of water, and doused all three of us! He yelled, “BASTA YA!” Then we all looked at each other and laughed so hard, my tears mixed with the water dripping from my head.
I never question my love for them or their love for me. But I do question the love they have for each other when I’m caught in the middle.
Schiller Park, Illinois
My daughter and I love handbags. And not just any old handbag—I’m talking designer bags. One day we decided it might be fun to swap bags for a few months. I set her handbag on top of my puppy’s crate and left for a few hours of shopping and fun. When I returned home I found that my little dog had jumped up and grabbed the purse. She had chewed around the zipper and also on a couple of other areas. I was devastated. She’d never gotten anything off her crate before—how was she even tall enough to reach it? I told my daughter to send it in for repair, and I would pay for the damages. Which came to the tune of $425. Gulp. I kissed the money goodbye, gave my puppy a hug, and let bygones be bygones. I will keep her crate clear of any valuables from now on.
Sagamore Hills, Ohio
Kaiser, our American akita, became part of the Gonzalez family when he was three months old. He is very dear to my heart because he became part of my life during a time of transition when I was moving from California back to Chicago to start North Park Seminary. Throughout the summer before I moved, we would go to the local dog park. Kaiser loves water—he drinks from the water hose and all the water bowls at the dog park, and he dives into the kiddie pool at the park and will not budge! My siblings and I all were competitive swimmers and Kaiser continues that legacy. Come summer time you can find him in the pool cooling off. He was the smallest dog at the dog park, but he was curious and brave so he would just run with the pack and go with the flow.
When we first brought home Steve, our (now) gigantic white cat, I found myself competing with my boys for his attention. I have since given up that fight. Steve tolerates me, but he is clearly for the boys, of the boys, around the boys, and with them. When they are playing, he plops down on top of whatever they are creating. Board games are his real addiction. If there is a playing board with a box lid within a four-mile radius, he will find it, plop down on it, and extend one paw toward either Charlie or Henry, as
if to say, “Deal me in.” If a child is sick, he is their pillow. If they are sad, he lets them drag him up with them onto the couch like a large cat teddy bear. When they get home from school he comes running—he is so large that his running down the stairs is loud. There are no “little cat feet” here, as Carl Sandburg hailed in his poem. Steve thumps. He runs to the boys and head-butts them. Then he tries to get into their backpacks. Sometimes he succeeds. Every night, as we go to tuck in the sleeping boys, I find Steve. “Dude,” he seems to say. “I got this.”