Growing up in a house with a very anxious mother wasn’t easy. It affected everything and everybody. While I understand as an adult why things were the way they were, it was difficult as a child living with someone who needed to control just about everything. I didn’t consciously know it then, but I longed for someone in the house I could just `be’ with … without intrusion, always accepting, always comforting, and who’d never give up a secret. And my dog became that someone.
When I was 5, my brother 9, our parents decided we were old enough to have a dog, so at Christmas they gave us a beautiful Boxer puppy. I don’t think either of us quite `got’ the concept of having a dog at Christmas when there were still so many other exciting presents to open and play with. But Tinkerbell, as she was named, was not to stay with us very long. Within a few months she developed epilepsy. I don’t remember seeing the seizures my mother described Tink having on the kitchen floor, with blood and foam spewed all over the room, or perhaps I willed myself to forget. But as there were no cures for epilepsy back then, Tinkerbell’s only option was to be returned to spirit. I was so young, and hadn’t become very attached to her yet, I don’t think I really understood what had happened.
Then our parents got another dog. She was sold to them as a Boxer, 6 months old, and I recall my mother being so happy she didn’t drool because her face wasn’t pushed in like other Boxers. There was a reason for that … she wasn’t really a Boxer. At best, she was a Boxer, pit bull terrier mix; my obedience trainer, when he looked at my childhood photos of her, told me that she was pure, and that was how they bred American Pit Bull Terriers back then. It didn’t matter … she quickly became the best friend and confidante I longed for. Her name was Dutchess. Dutchess Von Wiggles was how my mom had `officially’ named her because she had a butt that was constantly in happy motion.
Dutch couldn’t sleep with me as she wasn’t allowed on the second floor, so I slept with her downstairs. We watched TV together, me resting my head gently on her side; and we curled up in sleep on the living room floor. She learned all the tricks a dog learns, and loved to go for walks or play outside in the yard. I can honestly say, in a way that only a dog or animal lover would understand, she was everything to me … she was my best friend. I had a human best friend, of course – happily, I always had friends — and I had my big brother to play with and taunt, but Dutchess was different. She was just what I needed – another soul in the house that simply loved me straight out no matter what. And I adored her for that.
When I was little, my parents would cover her eyes and ears and I would hide. Then they’d let her go … “Find Jeanne!!” And Dutchess would search every nook and cranny downstairs to see where I was hiding, just bursting into wiggling, wagging joy when she found me. What child doesn’t live for those moments? She made me feel safe in a childhood where feeling emotionally safe wasn’t easy. Dutch was the heart, soul and embodiment of unconditional love. She was both my rock and my wings, my compass and stars; she was my comfort and confidante. She was one little girl’s very best friend.