The first one I remember is Polly. She was a black lab and she had a bunch of puppies. She didn’t live with us but somehow she was our dog. She lived with my grandparents because they had a kennel. The day we went to the local animal fair to show off Polly’s pups still ranks as one of the most exciting days of my life. The rest of our dog family, I cannot put in any sort of chronological order but I can put the name and the breed together with some degree of accuracy.

We had Sally the basset hound, Prissy the pekingese and Charlie the poodle. Wiener dogs were as follows: Leroy, Henry, Rufus and Barney. Two more labs, one named Bo and one named Dixie. The only dog we ever had to die of natural causes was a beagle. I can’t recall what name we finally agreed upon for her but she lived for one day (she was also the only dog we ever bought from a pet store).

I loved (almost) all of the dogs that we gave a home to before asphalt gave them their final lesson in humility. Some of these lessons in humility were quick and painless (I’m assuming) and some required a trip to the vet where they promptly received a lethal dose of barbiturates in order to avoid all future expenses.

They never gave us the dog back. The vet didn’t. My mother told me they cremated them for us. I was curious but it did not affect my emotions. You see, with death of one dog, the sun did not set until we had found us another. So I don’t remember much grieving. I just remember the unbridled excitement over obtaining our next victim.

Our dogs, they were inside dogs and outside dogs. Some were housetrained, some were not. The ones that were housetrained had to have been very self-motivated because we never did a single thing to teach them a single thing. I would not venture to guess, in my young life, how many piles of dog shit I picked up and flushed down the commode. I became amazingly adept in assessing the firmness of a load before deciding on how big the wad of toilet paper needed to be so that the crap could be safely contained and held at arm’s length.

The only dog we had with a noticeable flea problem was that dumb Pekingese, Prissy. She was my least favorite. Prissy left a puncture wound on my best friend, Miriam Timmerman. She also liked to eat leftover pancakes. The ungrateful dog would just about take your hand off if you happened to dangle it anywhere near while she was in her pancake eating frenzy. The gods decided to punish Prissy for being such a shitty family pet by making one of her eyeballs pop out. The vet didn’t try to fix it. He just sewed up the hole and she became a one-eyed dog. Again, future expense the first consideration.

My favorite was Charlie. He was nice to my friends, went outside to relieve himself and never served as host to any parasitic insects. My daddy, he loved the wiener dogs best. I thought it was hilarious when he would sic what he called the “pencil dick bastards” on his friends. He would issue command in his loud booming voice “Kill, Barney, Kill!” and I would just laugh until I cried.

Memories, I realize, are not the best sources for documenting history. The more distant they are, the better they become. Or the worse they become. But more often you will find in them some modicum of truth. The truth herein lies that the dogs in our family were essential for putting a tiny speck of function in the dysfunctional.