Around the time I entered kindergarten my family got a dog. My parents both grew up in New York City and didn’t know much about dogs or dog training. But we lived in the suburbs of New Jersey, they had three kids, and getting a dog was the thing to do. Besides, my mom had always wanted one. My pleas for a lengthy name with Bluebird in it were ignored. They named him Tiger.
What really set off my love of dogs was not the appearance of this rambunctious creature that even as a puppy would drag me across the lawn. It was the incident in the kitchen. My memories are a little fuzzy on details. Clearly I had done something wrong that deserved a severe scolding, but I have no idea what. I remember my mother being very angry and looming over me while I lay on the floor. Suddenly, Tiger was standing over me, protecting me from potential danger. At least that’s how I saw it. Although I didn’t realize it until years later, that incident sealed the bond between me and canines.
Half border collie and half standard poodle, Tiger was all untrained mutt. He stole food off the table and counters, begged and whined while we ate, barked at everything, and ran off every second he got the chance. Car rides were impossible as he started barking as soon as he entered any vehicle and didn’t stop until he got out. Tiger wasn’t a total train wreck. He learned to walk on his back legs and do other stupid pet tricks as long as food was involved. He was also a great listener and never once complained about my singing. Tiger and I were like siblings. I was the only one he ever growled and snapped at, but still loved him. He was family. My attempts to teach him manners later in life, however, met with failure.
One cold December evening, when I was home from college, I went over to say goodnight before heading up to bed. By that time he could no longer walk up the two steps into the house and was living in the garage. Tiger raised his head and looked at me, wagged his tail a few time, then lay his head down and when back to sleep. He never woke up. It was a goodbye wag I would never forget.