Canine City

A Dog’s Purpose

By Joey Kennedy

As I sit on my front porch on Southside, I can watch people walk their dogs all day. In the 18 years we’ve lived in our money pit, my wife and I have noticed more people walking more dogs. Each year it seems Birmingham becomes even more dog friendly.

Our friends know us as dog people, and we have quite the grumble of pugs.

Most of our dogs are seniors, and most have some sort of health challenge. Gus can’t walk. Keller is blind. Lucy has bad hips. Ernie is mentally challenged. Ralph is deaf. Sometimes I feel like we’ve gone too far or rescued one too many. But when I get to thinking we’re outliers, I talk to a few of my dog-loving friends. Then I always feel better.

“They are my family,” says Donna Farmer, who runs the Birmingham Boston Terrier Rescue. “They know me at my best and worst, yet they still like me. There is a connection with our pets that allows us to be accepted as we are.”

Dog owners know this. People who don’t share their lives with dogs often don’t. I remain curious that there are people who live their whole lives without dogs. That’s just me; I’m not judging.

Birmingham, in being such a dog-friendly town, makes it easy to have these lifelong companions. Veronica and I every so often reward our dogs with excursions to local restaurants. Most every restaurant in the Birmingham area with an outdoor patio welcomes dogs. Many will put out a bowl of water or offer a dog-friendly snack. Even the Summit shopping center is dog friendly, and many stores don’t mind you bringing your pup with you to shop. We rarely take our pups to the veterinarian that they aren’t rewarded with a Starbucks puppaccino on the way home.

Responsible humans make sure their dogs are well behaved and friendly, so don’t get upset if your dog is making a ruckus in a restaurant or store and you’re asked politely to remove your furry friend. Don’t ruin the experience for diners without dogs or for others who appreciate a restaurant’s or store’s dog-friendly policies.

Abigail Witthauer, owner of RoverChase, knows the importance of well-trained dogs. She not only trains companion animals but also service dogs and, indeed, uses one herself.

“I’ve not lost a service dog yet,” Witthauer says, “but I have retired one (Mr. Big) and transitioned to a new one (Macallan). Now, it’s hard for me to even think about losing Macallan (now three years old) and what a massive lifestyle and wellness change that would be for me. I have freedom and independence I would not have without him. I wish I could more effectively share with people how I feel about him and what he’s done for me. Maybe then I could more accurately describe how much smaller my world would become without him. It would be losing a part of me. One of the best parts.”

Little doubt losing a beloved dog stays with you. We still mourn for our first pug, Greta, who died at home in 2014 at the age of 12 years, two months.

Virginia Kelser Jones, who is a solo cat owner today, still remembers her golden retriever Baxter “that I lost 16 years ago. I could still cry thinking about him.”

But Meeps, her black rescue cat, is her companion today: “Meeps is the only cat I’ve ever owned,” Jones says. “I was skeptical, but she’s my best little friend. We were meant for each other.”

Did I mention that Birmingham is a great kitty city, too? Well, it is. We have always had a cat, and our third, Smudge, makes sure to keep the pugs in line. Indeed, her best friend is Gus, our pug who can’t walk very well.

Still, we’re mostly dog people, and I believe Birmingham is mostly a dog town.

Yet, we still must tell our best friends goodbye much too soon.

One last story, this one from Cathy Adams, who serves on the board of the Adopt a Golden Birmingham rescue:

“Our golden retriever, Sunshine, turned 11 a few days after Christmas,” Adams says. “You don’t need a veterinary degree to know that days after age 10 are at best borrowed time with a large breed dog. Sunshine left us the way we all say we would hope to go —playing with a great goofy smile on her face on a Thursday and lying with her head in my lap as my vet gave her a final injection on Friday. From the time I rushed her to the clinic suddenly unable to stand, to the last acts of her life, thumping her tail and licking my hand, we had less than an hour for a final summation of almost a dozen golden years. I told Sunshine the first words that popped out of my heart: thank you.

And: “In the dog world, Goldens are the poster pups for uncompromising loyalty. As The Shiner made a supreme last effort to struggle to give me that lick, I knew that she was thanking me back, and I had to laugh as hard as I was crying, thinking of the prayer on a sign in my office: ‘Lord, help me be the person my dog thinks I am.’

“In no human eyes will we ever come close to achieving the standard of perfection to which a good dog elevates us,” Adams says. “A good dog gives us more love than we could ever earn or deserve, and I hope that another sign in my office speaks an ultimate truth: ‘Heaven is the place where all the dogs you have ever loved run to greet you.’”

So, curious reader, what is your dog’s purpose?

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