Today is my big buddy boy’s 11th birthday. Of course the number of years is a vet’s best guess, and the date is one that I arbitrarily picked as being appropriate for a big Irish lad. But we are celebrating his 11th birthday today nonetheless.
All dogs are of course special, but Pal is especially so. Now before I get ahead of myself, let us go back to the beginning – a place that many good stories start from.
Back then, my father and I were volunteering as foster parents for an Irish Setter rescue organization. Our family’s association with Irish Setters goes back many years, as described in some detail in my post “The Saga of Cement Sue”. Dad & I had fostered 9 dogs in the space of 2 years. Then I got the call to pick up number 10. The story I was told was that this big red boy had walked up to the Humane Society in Kankakee, IL. The staff at the shelter had watched him walk down the road with a Collie at his side. The two walked straight up to the front door of the shelter, and sat down politely to wait. The staff found ID tags on the Collie and contacted the owner saying “we have your dogs here.” The owner responded that he only had one dog, a Collie and didn’t know anything about an Irish Setter. Based on his condition, the vet at the shelter estimated that this big boy had been on his own for about six months. The shelter got in touch with our rescue group. Arrangements were made for a volunteer to pick him up from the shelter and transport him north to New Buffalo, MI where I would pick him up and take him to our home for fostering.
When the volunteers arrived at our rendezvous point they came in one of those really big crew cab pick-up trucks. This big 90 pound dog in the back of the cab looked quite frightened at the prospects of leaping to the ground from such a height. I reached in and picked up the big lug in my arms and set him gently on the ground. His big brown eyes communicated to me as clearly as could be “Thank you, that was a scary prospect.”
At this point I got my first good luck at this handsome lad. He had such a noble countenance, with big brown eyes that you could swim in, and such long graceful ears. He was simply the most handsome Irish Setter that I had ever seen.
As was my usual practice when transporting a foster dog home, we drove immediately to the closest fast food outlet, in this case a McDonald’s franchise, for a treat before starting the drive home. When we arrived at the Magic Window, I got my first view of this master flirt in action. He immediately went head and shoulders out the window, with no shame about standing on me to accomplish his goal. The girl working the window was immediately taken with him and started petting him and whispering sweet nothings to him. As we drove away, breaking the poor girl’s heart, I handed him a cheeseburger. Again those communicative eyes spoke plainly and said “Thank you, this is the most wonderful, magical thing ever!”
When we got home, Pal & Sue greeted each other, and Sue in her magical way let him know that this was her house and that she was the alpha dog. Pal seemed OK with that, and performed a quick scout of the house. He returned to stand in front of the living room sofa and look up and down the length of the couch. Then he looked over at Dad. Back to up and down the couch, and then back to Dad. My father said “You can get up there if you want.” and Pal was instantly up on the couch and settled in like he belonged.
I was head over heels in love with this boy, but trying to be a good foster parent, I worked towards the goal of getting him adopted out to the right family. Then one day Dad said, “We should keep this boy, he is on the same schedule as me – breakfast, then a nap, lunch, then a nap, supper, then a nap, bedtime snack, and then off to bed.” And that was all it took, Pal was home.
Over the next few weeks, we learned how smart Pal was – he can open door knobs, that he was a total garbage hound – able to retrieve food scraps from any receptacle, and that he was a superb lady’s man – he would push his head into their legs, then roll his head up so that he was looking in their eyes and they would totally melt. We also became aware of what a gentle giant he was, able to maneuver around Dad, without toppling him or his walker over.
While Pal was King of the Couch at home, we soon learned that at the Dog Park he was the Park Policeman. Pal will not tolerate aggressive behavior in his vicinity. If two dogs are behaving aggressively in the slightest degree, Pal will insert himself between them. If that doesn’t settle the situation, Pal will rest his head on the aggressor’s back. And if that doesn’t settle it, then Pal will push the aggressor over on to his back. He may be the gentlest giant ever, but when his dander is up, you don’t mess with Big Pal.
Pal was a happy boy, and very content in his home. But changes were in the wind. In my initial conversation with Linda about moving to Durham, the first question I asked her was “Do you have a couch for Pal?” Of course she had multiple couches for Pal, and she understood why that would be such a high priority to me.
It shouldn’t have surprised me how much Pal loves his new home. He has his new Mamma, Linda. His greatest pleasure is walking up on her as she sits at her computer and kissing her face for as long as she will tolerate it. And it isn’t just at her desk – he’ll happily kiss on her no matter where she is, even in the water at the beach.
I’m sorry big buddy, but I don’t know how to convey in words how special you are. I am just so glad that you chose to be a big part of my family – and I hope that you know how much both Linda & I love you. Happy Birthday Pal!