I have not been shy about spreading tales about Ellie B aka Dogamous Pyle.
Our spirited rescue mutt has gone to a Syracuse Chiefs game with my dear wife Karen and I. We marched her in the Manlius Fourth of July Parade. We took her for a doggie spa day. And I get annoyed when my daily walks with her encounter loose dogs and law-breaking dog owners.
She is quite the character, this spirited Ellie B.
But she is not my first.
That would be Taffy.
Frank and Dolores gave little Mark a dog for Christmas when I was 4 years old.
I loved the pup, the pooch, the good old dog over the more than a decade that he was easily my best bud. I did not complain about walking or feeding Taffy, not that I can recall.
What I remember is the walks we’d take together, first in a park behind our house in Levittown, and then through the wooded area that surrounded us when we moved to Stony Brook, the summer before I started eighth grade. We’d explore the natural hills and valleys, and when they started to build the SUNY Stony Brook Medical Center back there, we’d poke our noses into the man-made mountains of excavated earth, too.
When Taffy got into double-digits and was no longer a threat to bolt at the sight of the nearest Long Island bunny hopping around the woods in back of our house, he’d sit quietly unleashed on the back patio and eat summer dinners with me, my parents and my sisters Fran and Dory.
I thank middle sister Frannie for posting this picture of Taffy on her Facebook page yesterday morning. We all loved that dog and the protection he provided with his big bark when our dad would be spending weekend nights as a drummer for a band that played wesdding receptions.
Taffy was on duty.
We felt safe.
I still remember the day when Taffy fell so ill that I carried him into my mom’s car for a trip to the vet as I was leaving for school one morning. I could not concentrate in school that day in a time before cellphones.
When I got back off the bus, the news was indeed bad. I buried our dear Taffy that night in the rear of our backyard, out where the bunnies hopped, my sisters crying beside me.
I was without dog for three decades. The one negative about our dear Taffy was that he seemed to kick up my allergies come shedding season.
At least that’s what we thought.
In my adult years, I sniffled and coughed when entering dog households.
Then I picked Karen up at her house for a date and met Lissa, her sweet rescue dog.
Lissa loved me. I loved Lissa. I did not sneeze or cough around this shepherd mix.
I’d latch Lissa onto her leash and off we’d go, from Karen’s house to Long Branch Park. Sometimes we’d let Lissa jump into the backseat, drive to the park parking lot, and walk the entire five miles of the trail to and from the other end.
One warm winter day, I recall Lissa stopping in the parking lot on the far side of that park to lap up cool water pouring off a melting mound of snow.
When Karen and I bought our house and moved in together, I declared to this dog out loud, “I hereby adopt Lissa.”
We adored each other, this feisty dog and I. She loved our fenced back yard, and did not try to escape through the gaps between the bottom of the planks and ground.
Our walks around the neighborhood weren’t quite as eventful as the park trail and all those other people and leashed dogs, but they made the three of us happy.
Lissa protected Karen with big barks on the nights when I was working, out reviewing concerts. And Lissa was thrilled when Karen and I got married 5 1/2 years ago. I swear that dog could sense it.
When a photographer from the big daily came to take a family picture to display at the 25-year-club dinner the year I made it in, Lissa jumped into the pose. As the photos of the dozen-plus newbies were flashed on a big screen, the 100-plus members and their spouses laughed at once at the happy portrait of Mark, Karen and Lissa.
Every night when I got home from work, Lissa would be dancing at the door to greet me no matter the time, singing her special “A wheeew-wheeeew-wheeeeew” lyrics. One day Good Neighbor Tim told me, “I wish somebody had greeted me like that when I got home, even once.”
Lissa started having trouble walking when she reached double digits. The vet told us she had a degenerative nerve disease specific to shepherds, and gave her a year.
Lissa lived five more, to the wonderfully satisfying age of 15.
One day I got home from work and Karen was huddled with Lissa on the living room floor. Her rear legs had finally gone out for good. I carried Lissa in my arms to the car, and Karen cradled her in the back seat as we drove to the vet. We did what we had to do that night and cried and cried and cried.
It took a couple of years to get over Lissa’s passing.
Then one May almost three years ago, Karen talked me into going to Paws for a Cause at Driver’s Village.
We met Ellie, looking too cute in her blaze orange “Adopt Me” vest as she was led around the hall by a volunteer from the Rome Humane Society.
We had come to support the cause. Or so I thought.
I saw the look in Karen’s eyes as Ellie jumped up to greet us. This dog looked an awful lot like her auntie Lissa, I thought.
You want her, don’t you, I asked Karen.
Karen signed the papers right there.
Two days later, we picked the newly spayed Ellie at the vet’s next to the Rome Humane Society. The nice people there told us they came into work one morning and there this puppy sat on the front stoop. Somebody must have left her there overnight.
A new love affair began with this pip of a pooch who could not sit still. Karen and I decided Ellie had the “flee gene.” She squiggled through the gaps in our backyard fence. She’d dart out of the tiniest opening left in the side door. One day she jumped through the screen door. Around our Syracuse city neighborhood of Eastwood we’d chase her, bag of Pupperonis in hand to lure her back to the leash.
The wildest and most frightening day came when we finally caught up to her jogging in the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot on the intersection of two very busy city streets.
We lucked out. A jogger there told us she’d been running along with him for blocks. He continued his jog, and Ellie followed him into his fenced front yard on one of those busy streets and he simply closed the gate behind him.
We established a more easy peace in our relationship as the months rolled by.
At one point, Ellie became Ellie B. Then I tacked on the nickname Dogamous Pyle. She’s gone from accepting us to grudgingly respecting us to licking my face all the live long day.
At 3-plus years old, Ellie B aka Dogamous Pyle has mellowed some. We got a new Ellie B-proof fence in the backyard, but she still likes to dig around the bottom.
I keep a wary eye when somebody opens or closes that side door, but in the last couple years, she’s stayed put.
Knock on wood.
Are you a dog person? Cat person? What are your favorite stories about your family pet?