I have a dog. He's a golden retriever. We say he's a golden retriever, anyway. He's from the SPCA and didn't come with papers. Chances are that he has something else mixed in, because he's awfully smart and quite healthy, and I've heard that mixed breeds often are both more intelligent and healthier than are purebreds. Other than as it relates to his health, it really doesn't matter. My family wanted a good pet to be a part of our family, and that is exactly what we got.
Our present dog has been part of my family since I was ten. He joined our family a mere six days after our previous dog died. My parents adopted her -- our first dog -- from the SPCA shortly after they lost premature twins at birth. They needed something to at least partially fill the void in their lives. While lost children can never be replaced, Our Lady of Fatima came as close as anything or anyone ever could to accomplishing that impossible feat.
To my mother fell the unenviable task of choosing a dog at the SPCA. Had my father been part of the process, he'd still be there trying to make a choice. Once they had agreed to get a dog, my dad told my mom he just couldn't do it, but that he would love whatever dog she brought home. My mom said choosing a pet was hard. There was a temptation, she said, to pick the most pitiful creature because the one she might most have been drawn to was a dog someone else would probably have chosen as well, while the pitiful creature might have been on his last legs in terms of how much more time the SPCA was going to grant him to be adopted before the unthinkable happened. In the end, my mom said, she forced herself to remove that thought from her mind and to select the dog that would best fit our family, but the process, she said, was torturous
Our Lady of Fatima, whose name was abbreviated to Fatima because the full moniker was too cumbersome, was also predominantly golden retriever. She may have had some Irish setter thrown into the mix as well, but again, it made no difference whatsoever in the process of choosing her. My parents wanted a dog who would help them to be less lonely, and she filled the role as though she had been bred and born for that sole purpose.
Fatima was already a family member before my twin, Matthew, and I arrived on the scene. The three of us first became acquainted before Matthew and I were born when Fatima, sitting next to my mom after a long day of work, would respond to the kicks or other discernible movement within my mother's womb by gently tapping her paw against my mother's midsection. My mom said the nonverbal communication between Fatima and the babies would sometimes go on for up to five minutes. My dad didn't believe it and thought my mom was delusional until he witnessed the spectacle himself. He captured one instance of it on camcorder, and it's been preserved for posterity.
My mother came home from the hospital with just Matthew after the two of us were born, because at just two pounds, two ounces, I was too small to leave the hospital. My parents say when they walked in the door with Matthew, they immediately held him at Fatima's level. She sniffed him, then stopped and looked at my parents quizzically. (I swear that I'm not making this up. If anyone's making it up, it's my parents. It's what they've always told me.) Fatima went to wherever Matthew was in the house. If either of my parents took him away from home, she could be seen in the window waiting for their approaching car when they returned, and would greet them at the door from the garage entrance into the kitchen. Still, they insist, she seemed unsettled, and whined a great deal.
Five weeks and two days after my birth I was released from the hospital. My parents took Matthew with them to the hospital, and the four of us arrived at home for the first time as a complete family. Fatima stood at the door waiting as we came in. My dad says he held both of us at her level for to see. She sniffed Matthew, sniffed me, then looked at my parents with an expression that they say could only be identified as relief.
From that point, Fatima's mission in life was to protect Matthew and me. She would no longer sit on the sofa with my parents while they relaxed or watched TV in the evenings after we were in bed. When it had been just Matthew at home, she slept under his bed. Once I arrived, she positioned herself very nearly equidistant between our two bassinets, wherever they happened to be placed.
Nothing or no one lasts forever, including dogs. Fatima developed lymphoma, oddly enough since it was and is one of the two malignancies my father researches. She was treated with chemotherapy, but developed pneumonia and died in her sleep at home. It was the saddest day of my life. I didn't want another pet to join our family.
I'm very thankful that my parents were wise enough not to listen to me. One dog can't replace another, just as a baby can't replace a lost child, but it can help to fill the hole in one's heart created by the loss. My mother went to the local SPCA, this time with my brother. They came home with another dog possessing the golden retriever phenotype. The dog was approximately six months old and was male. My mother would have preferred that Matthew pick a dog other than one that was predominantly golden retriever, since it would have made it easier for all of us to accept this new pet on its own terms rather than expecting it to become Fatima, but he was the dog Matthew wanted, and ten-year-old Matthew cried when my mother gently suggested that he look at some of the other dogs. She relented, and the rest is history. My dad named him Pope John Paul III, in honor of the late pontiff John Paul II who had only recently passed. The full name only appears on his official records. He is and always has been simply The Pope or Pope for short.
My resolve to have nothing whatsoever to do with The Pope lasted until he pushed his way past my mom and Matthew through the door and into our home. Matthew always thought the dog's loyalty should have been to him, since he was the one who chose The Pope from the shelter, but The Pope was especially taken with the wild-haired little girl in the family. He would defend any or all of us against an attacker, but if we were to go to battle against one another, the dog would protect me.
The Pope is now about seven-and-one-half years old. He runs with anyone in the family who goes for a run, fetches, and brings in the newspaper. He gives his very deepest bark when he senses anything or anyone might be a threat to his family. By day, he wanders the premises, ensuring that nothing or no one lurks in the shadows. By night he sleeps wherever I am. Had we let him out the night a brick was propelled through my window, the perpetrators would have scars to show for their trouble. The night I was accidentally left on the sofa overnight and fell trying to get to my wheelchair, The Pope had eaten something that should have been inedible earlier in the day and was spending the night in the pet hospital. If he had been in the house, I would not have lain on the floor for hours developing a kidney infection. He surely would have barked loudly and continuously until someone came to my aid.
If someone -- anyone -- had tied Fatima or tied The Pope, in or out of a carrier, to the roof of a car, I would likely be charged with assault and battery of that person. I say likely and not absolutely because in order to commit an assault on any perpetrator of abuse against Fatima or The Pope, I would first have to compete with my father, my brother, and my mother for the honor. I can easily outrun my mom, but my brother and my dad have much longer legs than I.
The idea of any one of us doing such a thing to our dog is beyond possibility. I would myself ride on the roof of a car long before I would allow anyone to put my dog there.
**********EDITED BECAUSE MY PARENTS TEMPORARILY IGNORED CONFIDENTIALITY CONCERNS AND CONCEDED THAT JUST THIS ONCE IT'S OK FOR ME TO REFER TO MY DOG AS WE ACTUALLY ADDRESS AND REFER TO HIM******************************