A people story in dog’s clothing

This is a dog story, except... many of us realize a dog story is actually a people story in dog’s clothing.

Storytellers from the beginning of time have used animals to tell humanity’s narrative – how Raven facilitated the emergence of the first people by prying open a clamshell or how Coyote represents our chaotic nature. This tome is yet another derivation of that theme.

It is not about one dog, but several. For years, “Tied to the Post” featured stories about Buffy the Wonder Dog, a sweet Golden Retriever, a rescue, but not in the traditional sense.

Jana rescued her mother from the challenges of raising a puppy. She had done her best to raise eight wild Kennedy children but had forgotten the particular difficulties of bringing a puppy into a home.

Steve and Jana had recently lost their beautiful Border Collie, Sadie, and Jana was still smarting from the almost inevitable tragedy of that loss.

While visiting her parents one spring weekend, soon thereafter, she returned to Bluff and laid the foundation for Buffy to join the family by telling Steve, “Just so you know, I think a little Golden Retriever will soon be joining our household.”

Having softened Steve to the imminent arrival of the yellow-haired puppy, Jana laid out the realities of owning a Golden Retriever.

“Steve, Goldens are family dogs. They need to be in the house with their people.”

This conversation was necessary because Steve had not been raised with pets. He will argue this fact by saying, “We had ‘Bandit.’”

Bandit was a raccoon. Enough said.

Steve and Jana had an arranged marriage, the arrangement centering around the simple fact that Jana was a woman with a history, a package deal, a smorgasbord including a houseful of stuff loaded in a 32-foot trailer, Harry the Horse, and Oaky the Dog.

Oaky was found abandoned in a phone booth in the Southern California mountains near Julian. He is credited with cracking open the inside-versus-outside-pet door.

Jana moved her trading business onto the sun porch located just off their upstairs apartment kitchen. Along with Oaky; Darren, the stray grey cat; Hershey, the hammerhead Chocolate Lab; Sadie, the Border Collie, easily the best-looking and most neurotic; and Freckles, the Australian Shepherd with a broken nose and swollen eyes, unquestionably the ugliest. All of them kept Jana company during long hours of writing and working in her sun porch location.

Having been given her first Golden Retriever on her twelfth birthday, Jana had spent decades learning the nuances of this lovable breed. Buffy was the finest the breed had to offer, not genetically, per se; she was plagued with hip dysplasia and cancer.

In personality, however, she was a grand champion and assumed the position of Trading Post Dog. This honorable role requires the best in canine disposition, an ability to spend all day, every day, greeting people of all ages from around the world.

Golden Retrievers were made for this work. If a person who believed dogs cannot smile entered Buffy’s realm, she had the skills to educate them otherwise.

One can wax endlessly about Buffy success stories, but the most compelling anecdote was her ability to soften the heart of one Steve Simpson.

And it happened not only because of her presence, but as a result of the absence of his nuclear family as well.

In 2006, Jana decided to take ten-year-old Kira and seven-year-old Grange out of school and onto the road for a year-long traveling odyssey exploring idiosyncrasies of the people and landscapes of the United States.

Steve and Buffy would stand on the porch waving and wagging as the red Toyota van receded from their view. The little family was absent from Bluff for one- to two-month spells.

Witnessing the man-dog bond grow over the ensuing year warmed Jana’s heart.

So, it was a shock to all when in Buffy’s tenth year, she suddenly and tragically succumbed to a bout of peritonitis; we were all devastated.

Steve, who is typically impenetrable, was heartbroken. Coping with her loss manifested itself in Steve and Jana burying themselves in work and the busy-ness of Grange’s high school life.

As Grange’s graduation approached and Jana was looking an empty nest in the face, the thought that occurred to her after three years of being canine-less was, “With both kids, gone, I need a dog... I really need a dog.”

Replacing a dog like Buffy is not easily done, and Jana made it all the more difficult by putting together an almost impossible list of requirements for the next dog.

The Trading Post Dog description included Golden Retriever, female, adult, house-trained, likes cats, is good with people, and has good “Come” and “Stay” commands. Piece of cake, right?

Jana scoured every Golden Retriever rescue in Utah and neighboring states. At the first whiff of the remoteness of our home, rescue organizations lost interest in pursuing our request. It is no wonder it took over four years to find another dog.

Sometime after this past Thanksgiving, a few townspeople spotted a small, white, retriever-ish dog skittering about Bluff.

A local contractor observed her unpropitious arrival when a middle-aged couple dropped her off next to the local credit union dumpster. Various other individuals began the patient work of corralling her.

The game of telephone sometimes works well in Bluff. Word got to the right people that Steve and Jana were interested in giving this little dog a forever home.

Steve was hooked from the get-go. How could one tell? He was the one to name her “Pearl.”

It has been somewhat difficult to parse what exactly Pearl is. She is extraordinarily sweet, house-trained, and terrific with our cat, Melvin.

What was originally described as English Retriever-like has evolved to mini-Great Pyrenees-ish.

Pearl weighed only 35 pounds when deposited in Bluff, and we will never know the abuses she survived before arriving here.

Jana has delved into the characteristics of the Pyrenees breed. Her coat and possible Pyrenees-ish nature have resulted in regular baths and slow, mindful training sessions.

And now, for the best part of this human, uh, dog story... Steve has poured his heart into this shy, little dog.

Where Buffy earned inside-the-trading-post status at the end of her life, Pearl is an inside-the-trading-post dog from the start.

He may not admit it, but he enjoys walking her and is accepting the resulting management of bright green, biodegradable poop bags.

Where, in the past few weeks, social distancing has removed too much of human touch, Steve is able to rub down Pearl to their hearts’ content.

Observing one of these rubdowns the other evening, Jana concluded, “Steve, it has only taken you sixty years, but I do believe you finally have a dog of your own.”

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