A column from 2007

Dogs I have loved

By Susan Manzke


Our dog, Cocoa is very old. One day she can bark up a storm because the Schwan’s man knocked on the door. The same evening, she’ll have trouble walking up the stairs. Two years ago, Cocoa was so sick she couldn’t keep food down. Luckily tender loving care brought her through that crisis. These days, I’m not so sure she will make it through another crisis.


As I look at Cocoa today, I remember other dogs that have touched my life.


The first dog I remember was Rusty. From his name, you can imagine came from his color. He was of unknown origin. We never adopted Rusty. Instead, he adopted our little family when we moved out of Chicago. Our trailer was set up just down the street from my cousins in Lincoln Estates. (That’s part of Frankfort, Illinois.)


Rusty had first been a member of my Aunt Sophie’s menagerie. When Aunt Bea moved her brood in next door, Rusty moved over one house. Finally, when we arrived in the neighborhood, Rusty came to take care of us.


Karen, my sister, was only one and a half. She hung on Rusty, grabbing fur and flesh. The poor dog never flinched. When he had had enough, he would look up at my parents with his sad bloodshot eyes and beg for help. Of course, they always rescued Rusty from Karen.


When I was young, I thought Rusty would live forever. So what if he slept a lot more instead of playing with us kids. Nothing would ever take that lovable dog away, or so I thought.


The night Rusty passed on, Karen and I were watching the Wonderful World of Disney. –I don’t know why I remember that, except that it was a memorable evening. —The neighbor called to say that Rusty had been visiting when he just died.


Tears flowed freely that night and not only in our house. That old red dog had touched so many lives; even adults had the sniffles because of him.


Next came Laddie, a sickly Collie that my parents couldn’t afford.  I think the only reason that they bought Laddie was because he was half price. The breeders didn’t want to bother with him.


Mom took Laddie home and spoon-fed him warm milk. When he gained strength, Mom tucked his medicine inside balls of liver sausage and tossed it to him. He soon recovered from his ailments and became a great family pet. The only trouble with Laddie was his long fur coat. Somehow that silly dog always found his way into burr patch. He sure didn’t look like any purebred dog when he returned from a hike all messy and matted.


After Laddie came Barney. He was a Border Collie, mostly. Barney was my dog. I taught him a few little tricks. Barney could shake hands, but his best trick was something no other dog could do. Barney could climb trees, well he could climb one tree.


On our property were three silver maple trees. The middle one split in a fork about three feet off the ground. Often, I was up in that tree. One day, Barney followed me up into the maple. He kind of jumped up to the fork and along the limb towards me. After that, I could just tell him to climb the tree and he would…for love of me. I had the only tree climbing dog in the neighborhood.


But Barney could do more. He could smile. He would wrinkle his upper lip and show teeth. On another dog this might look wicked, but Barney’s demeanor said he was happy. He kind of chuckled when he smiled.

There were other dogs through the years. We had another dog named Rusty. She didn’t have the personality of the original Rusty though. Her best trick was having puppies.

Flinger was a Labrador who could pull sleds and wagons for hours. He never seemed to tire playing with us kids. Flinger wasn’t so much a dog as he was a four-legged kid.


Other dogs of my life included Buffy and Sam, two Saint Bernards. We also had two Boxers who were absolute boneheads.


As I wrote about all these past friends, Cocoa came to lie by my feet. She gets upset when Bob and I are in different rooms and tries to herd us together so she can relax and watch over her two charges at the same time.


Her muzzle has gotten very gray as of late and I can’t help but wonder how long we will have the privilege of her company. Too bad all these four-footed friends have short lives. It seems unfair. Then again, this way we are able to share our lives with so many diverse and beautiful pets.

(It was a difficult day when we finally had to say good-by to our friend.)

Our late dog, Cocoa. A cherished friend
Our late dog, Cocoa. A cherished friend