I never really understood being a "pet person." I just didn't get it.
My wife, however, is incomplete without a pet. When I met her, she was in the waning days of a relationship with her dog, "Jake," who was a venerable elder presence in the house until she passed away many dog years beyond her typical span.
So I found myself in a house without a dog, which suited me fine, and with a wife pining for a dog. I knew where this was going to lead.
Four years ago I conducted one of the weirdest remotes in my 23-year radio history. I was a "caller" for a "Doggie Square Dance" for the Heart of the Catskills Animal Shelter in Delhi. Yes, I actually called a square dance for dogs!
I stood in the middle of a circle as grumpy, old mastiffs and sad-faced bulldogs dressed in jeans, holsters and cowboy hats were partnered with nervous poodles and flirty Lhasa Apsos dressed in gingham skirts and cowgirl scarves. I stood and hollered "Allemande left" and "swing your partner" with gusto at these canine Arthur and Kathryn Murrays. It really was great fun.
I noticed several dogs wearing vests that read "adopt me" on them. Our 10-year old, Joey, was with me that day and he looked up at me with a wise look far beyond his years. "You know, Mom would really like another dog." He knew I knew. And I knew it was time.
Three of us came home from Delhi that day, including a new 2-year old "something" named "Honey." Trish was overjoyed at "our" new dog, fell in love with her immediately and fell even more in love with me for caving on abandoning my "doggie-free" lifestyle.
She re-named the pooch "Stella." Why? "So I can laugh when I see you on the porch in your old undershirt calling her name, 'Stella!' just like Marlon Brando did in "Streetcar Named Desire."
She's a funny woman.
Over time I learned Stella's habits and trained her to follow some basic cues. I was so proud when I announced to the family a couple of weeks later that I had taught Stella how to sit. Trish outdid me, by a mile. She taught Stella how to whisper! True!
I surrendered. I threw myself helplessly at this dog and succumbed to her funny ways, her sharp intuition and her soulful, big, human brown eyes.
I never knew I could love a dog like I do Stella.
We have our own little life together. Well, for a couple of hours a day, anyway.
I get home from work around noon and it's just us. We go for a walk ("walkie") and she gets a cookie ("treat"). I think those are the only two words she really understands, and she responds to them with unbridled, volcanic outbursts of joy.
God, how this dog loves a walkie and a treat! No fuss. No second-guessing. No whining. No attitude. If we're going for a walk and there is a Milk Bone involved, Stella is in Hound Heaven.
I then sit for a spell watching my CSPAN 3 and Stella crawls up and lays her head in my lap pretending that she is just as interested as I am in the Congressional subcommittee hearings on the fiduciary nuances of the World Bank.
A half-hour later we both snap out of our CSPAN 3-induced nap. And off we go again. She is the Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote as we forage forthrightly through the thickets of Wilber Park on to points unknown (oh, all right, so it's just up to the high school).
We hung our stockings over our fireplace last week When I reached into the box and pulled out a big red stocking that said "Stella" on it, I chuckled to myself. "I am really gone," I laughed. Hanging up a stocking for the dog. Funny.
And so on Christmas Eve, after the house quiets down and I flick the last lights out in anticipation of Santa's nocturnal visit, I will no doubt go over to her doggie bed. Her soulful big, brown, human eyes will be slowly drooping as I pat her on the head and say "Merry Christmas, Stella."
I'd like to think she'll look up at me and think, "and Merry Christmas to you too, Dad."
"Pet people." I get it now.
Merry Christmas to all my readers (and your pets, too!).
I'll catch you in two ...
"Big Chuck" D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.