My Three Dogs, aka, keeping a leash on me from 1961 to now

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.

I got Taffy for my fourth Christmas, and he stood guard over the family tree for 10 years.

I got Taffy for my fourth Christmas, and he stood guard over the family tree for more than a decade.

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.

The Bialczak family in Eastwood. Lissa made sure she joined the portrait. (Photo by Al Campanie)

The Bialczak family in Eastwood. Lissa made sure she joined the portrait. (Photo by Al Campanie)

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.

Ellie B yesterday afternoon, ready to pose for another glory shot.

Ellie B yesterday afternoon, ready to pose for her dad.

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.

Sold.

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?

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32 thoughts on “My Three Dogs, aka, keeping a leash on me from 1961 to now

  1. 😦 sadly no family pets here. I don’t feel it would be fair to have a pet and leave it so much. With our hours and constant running else where the poor thing would be alone wayyyyy too much. But if I were to have a pet it would definitely be a dog. Allergic to cats, and I don’t trust cats anyway. Dogs…I trust.

    I love your stories about love here.

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  2. What a sweet post taking us through memory lane with your beloved canines. I do love it when our beloved dogs can go outside into the front yard with us and they have no desire to run down the block with you chasing them, instead choosing to be right by our side. I hope and pray that you have Ellie B. for many many wonderful years!

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  3. Great pics to illustrate the loving words, Mark. Pets add so much joy, don’t they? My childhood furry companion was a lhaso apso named Pepino (cucumber in spanish). We called him Peps for short. There’s a hole in your heart when it’s their time to leave. But the time in between is so worth it.

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  4. Fabulous post my friend. I remember Taffy and the woods walk. I am committed to Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Have had them for 27 years. They’ve brought incredible love into my life. I have worked with Ridgeback Rescue for the past 10 years. I’ll let you in on the big secret. You don’t rescue them. Dogs rescue you.

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  5. What a lovely post. I’m bi-petual – one cat and one dog. The dog, Sabu, gets to go to work with me every day and we never spend more than a couple of hours apart. The cat spends his days napping at home, dreaming up his next Act of Destruction and scoping out places to ambush the dog – they’re the best of pals.

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    • When my daughter turned 9, we got a cat by the name of Dusty. my daughter is turning 24 this month, and she still has Dusty as well as the much younger new cat Maurie. When I first started dating Karen, she had three cats as well as dear dog Lissa, Puffball, Toby and Mo. So I am no stranger to bi-petual, Sofia!

      One by one we lost Mo, Puffy and Toby. We put Puffy and Toby’s ashes into the ground behind our house here.

      To watch Toby play with first Lissa and then Ellie B was a real hoot. As you say, he know how to lie in ambush, and always got the last mild claw in.

      Thanks for your kind words!

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  6. Beautiful piece Mark. Love the (I’m assuming) Skynyrd reference in your newest dog’s nickname. I’ve been lucky to have been a companion to 8 different doggies (3 as a child; 5 with my wife). They have been a constant source of fun and joy and love.

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    • I for sure knew that Artemus was already taken, Phil. Besides, Dogamous Pyle fits Ellie B’s wanton southern rock ways perfectly … that’s a stretch, but I love the nickname.

      I’m glad to hear you appreciate my three great dogs and raise me by five. Good man, Phil, good wife, too.

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  7. Three decades without a dog? Yikes. At least you are making up for lost time. My username is kerbey bc of my deceased blue heeler, Kerbey, who meant the world to me at the time. I cannot fathom how a person could love a dog as a cat; a cat has no need to please its owner. Cats never seem grateful. Right now, one of our dogs is sick. I’ve never seen him sick! He suckered us at the pound by holding his paw out to shake, so we adopted him. He’s barely moving, just standing in the 25 mph winds, trying to stay propped up, not jumping or be irritating as usual. It’s like he’s a statue. Had to force him to eat a few bites. Poor thing. I think I’d go crazy if either of our dogs had the “flee gene.” I’m pretty uptight and that would drive me nuts if I found them jogging at the Dunkin Donuts LOL.

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    • I thought I was allergic all those 30 years, Kerbey, but apparently I grew out of the allergy between first dog Taffy and second dog Lissa. Thankfully.

      I knew that Kerbey was your darling blue heeler. Someday I hope you will trust me enough to tell me your real name. I know, I know, privacy matters.

      I hope your sick puppy gets better and quick.

      And yes, that Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot adventure had me picturing Ellie B trying to cross those busy city streets with poor results. Thank God she followed the jogger inside the gate instead.

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  8. So many adorable dogs!

    Due to my brother being allergic to animals, we did not have four-legged friends in our household–fish and hermit crabs–until I adopted a couple anoles before buying a mouse (Chino). Then, while I was in my last couple years of college, a stray cat found in the nearby sewer was saved and released, deciding to adopt my parents. The appropriately named cat, Draino (a.k.a. Sewer), then passed away after eating what seemed to be standard food, but was probably contaminated. A year or two later a second stray found his way to the Malone home, and he adopted my parents as well.

    Louis, as you know, is still cuddling and hunting around the home.

    I’ve been more of a dog person, and still am. Since the two Malone cats and my ex’s cats, I’ve grown accustomed to the felines and their humor and (especially) independent nature. It’s 50/50 for me. Both are loyal animals.

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  9. I have spent my almost entire life wanting a dog. No joy yet. But I’m not giving up hope. I should have got Steve to sign some sort of ‘you can have a dog’ prenup!

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      • We had a look on line – the main rescue centres in london are full of Pit Bulls – and sadly I think that’s because they have been previously owned for all the wrong reasons.
        So, in my retirement country cottage there will be a dog. I just need to get Steve to sign something to say so. I’m sure I can do that!

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  10. beautiful story, mark. each one sounds like they were a very special part of your life. and ellie continues to be. i really like her nickname, it sounds like the perfect cartoon dog character name. may you and karen have many more years with her? ps – my cat passed away almost 2 years ago, and i plan to adopt a new one and bring her home this summer. my family got a collie when i was about 10 and she was sweet and loyal. maybe i’ll have a dog again one day, but i live in the cottage and have a tiny yard so its a bit challenging. we’ll see. what i do know for sure, is how pets become a part of a family and make it even better )

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    • Sorry to hear about the loss of your cottage cat, my friend. Cats are easier in smaller spots, for sure, Beth. Dogs are very high maintenance, but worth the effort in every way. We have a small-ish city yard, but it seems to be enough for Ellie B aka Dogamous Pyle as long as I continue to walk her, too. I was so proud when I came up with that nickname. You’re right, it would make a great dog name in a cartoon!

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