|Hey, neighbor, wanna play?|
I knew three of my interviewee’s dogs, from the seventh and eighth generations of the ongoing line, back in my ski town days, when I was living in a basement-level apartment across the street. Chipeta, Moki, and Dillon – a mother and two siblings – would often amble across the traffic-less road and sit at the top of my front steps, dropping a tennis ball down the stairs until I either came out to play or let them in to hang out.
They were mellow and sweet and – most importantly – provided a doggy fix to a dog-loving girl who was without a dog.
After I made the connection last week, I pulled out an old photo album to look for pictures of the golden trio. Stuck amid images of a 20-years-younger me, I found a few shots of the neighborhood dogs – including one of the three of them lined up at the top of my stairs, an old tennis ball at their feet – along with other pups who filled the void during my dogless years, that time between when I left my childhood home and the dogs I grew up with and when I got my own first dog.
Otis and Boone – a golden retriever and a black lab/golden mix – accompanied me on countless hikes and backpacking outings. They belonged to friends, and I sometimes dog-sat for them when their people were away. Ike, an age-hobbled, perpetually smiling yellow lab, was another of my dog-sitting charges. Chelsea was the next-door-neighbors’ mutt, who ran alongside her people on long mountain bike rides well into her old age.
The ski shop where I worked in Crested Butte had a host of shop dogs. Bella was a slightly gawky Bernese Mountain dog who belonged to one of the shop owners. Ruby, a yellow lab who went with the other owner, was Bella’s older, more distinguished counterpart. Rounding out the mix was Honey, a sweet golden who tagged along to work with the office manager.
Around the corner from the house where I lived for four years, there was a huge malamute named Ullr, after the Norse god of winter. Ullr howled daily with the noontime whistle and was always up for a belly rub. I was happy to oblige as I passed the inn where Ullr kept watch, finding contentment in his general doggy happiness and the feel of fur on fingers.
Then there was Ben, a smiling, slightly shaggy, black dog who lived with the family I worked for when I left Colorado and overshot New England by a few thousand miles to land, briefly, in the west of Ireland. Ben loved to play soccer and would join me and the family’s two boys in our evening games in the barnyard. That combination of a dog to pat and a soccer ball at my feet lent a sense of the familiar in a place far from home.
I haven’t thought about this cast of dogs for a long while, but that random blast from the past brought them all back to me. Like good dogs everywhere, this canine crew offered unconditional friendship at times when I was without my own doggy sidekick, easy company during skiing and hiking explorations, and simple stress relief through belly rubs and ear scratches.
It’s been more than 15 years since I moved back East, which means all those dogs are now long gone. But I still can picture them in the old, familiar places, can still see in my mind’s eye their dog-smiling faces and happy anticipation about everything from hikes to biscuits to the noontime whistle.
They weren’t my dogs, but they’re all locked into my heart’s memory just the same, friends from other times and other places.