Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Dogs of My Life - Part One - Freckles, Angel, Tag, and Angela

[Note: this is part one of a two part series. The second entry can be found here.]

We moved to Highland Park, Illinois in 1952 when I was just about four years old. A few years later, after much begging from my sister Kay and I, my parents decided to get a dog. After talking with the local vet and researching breeds they settled on a springer spaniel -- on the grounds that the breed was good with young children. Freckles, as we called him, did not get the message and bit me at least twice before my parents reluctantly decided that he was not the dog for us. The vet helped them place him with a family on a farm. We were upset, but knew that there was another dog in our future.

One day my Dad, unbeknownst to any of us, went off in search of a dog for us. He had read a classified advertisement for an AKC registered miniature schnauzer from a family breeder in Kenilworth. He got there and immediately fell in love with the dog. Not the puppy they wanted to sell, but rather with the family dog, Angel, a champion, perhaps 8 months old. He negotiated with them and came home with Angel but would never tell us what he paid for her. As a part of the deal, the breeder was allowed to show her several times in the upcoming months.

We all fell in love with Angel immediately. She was a definite princess though and perhaps not as much fun as Freckles would have been. On the other hand, she did not bite. Mom always said she could take Angel anywhere and she'd behave like a lady. She would even take her shopping at some of the fancy Michigan Avenue stores that she patronized.

During the first months we had her, Angel made an appearance on WGN TV for some event, and at one dog show at the International Amphitheater. At this latter event we saw that she was so miserable to be away from us that we took her home and she was never shown again.

After a couple of years we decided that Angel needed a playmate and some friends in Glencoe had miniature schnauzer puppies available. I picked a pup out of the litter because he was clearly the friendliest of the pups. His name was Beau's Brother. Angel was along and the pup immediately picked up the end of her leash in his mouth and walked her around the basement. We named him "Angel's Tagalong" because he followed her everywhere. But we called him "Tag".

Tag was a great dog and in many ways the opposite of Angel. Angel was a lady, knew it, and acted like it. Tag was a bum, knew it and acted like it. Angel was fun, but Tag was great fun.

My parent's house was one house away from Lake Michigan and there was a beach we'd frequent during the summer. To get to it we'd climb stairs made of railroad ties that zig zagged down a high bluff. Angel and Tag would join us. I don't recall Tag ever getting in the water, but the first time we had Angel down there she ran into the water, swam straight out (doing, I suppose, the dog paddle), and turned around and swam back to the beach. After she shook herself off I don't think she ever went into the water again.

When we were growing up there were no leash laws (that I knew of at least). Our house was on a private road with five other houses and the dogs ran freely. As a result they visited the beach more often than we did. Tag, especially, liked to go down to the beach and find dead alewives to roll around in. He was a challenge to be around for several days after he'd do that.

Another non-leash law story about Tag: when I was in high school I used to catch a bus up at the Ravinia train station about 3/4 of a mile from our house. I would catch a ride there with my Dad who was commuting to Chicago at about the same time. One day I am sitting on the bus waiting for it to leave and I look out and there is Tag merrily trotting along. I got off the bus, asked the driver to wait a minute, grabbed tag, brought him into the station, handed to Dad and said "gotta run" and got back on the bus. Not sure exactly what Dad did at that point. :)

Tag was a fast dog. He'd sit in our living room staring out the back window at the woods until he'd see a squirrel. At that point he'd begin barking his head off and run to the front door which was on the exact opposite side of the house from the window he was looking out. We'd let him out and he'd go racing around the house yapping all the way. I'm not sure he ever caught a squirrel outright doing this, but I do know that for a number of years there was a tailless squirrel in the area.

Tag (left) and Angel, December 1973
Angel was approximately 16 when she died, and (I'm guessing) Tag was about 10 at that time. He immediately started slowing down and my Mom was worried enough to take him to the vet. The vet told her that Tag was depressed and that "he doesn't need medicine, he needs another dog". This, of course, is very self-serving for a vet, but in this case he was absolutely right. And so another miniature schnauzer, "Tag's Angela" came joined our family. At this point I was heading off to college so I did not get to know Angela as well as Angel and Tag, but Tag certainly did. He perked right up and they were fast friends almost immediately.

One of the bad things about popular dog breeds is that they tend to get inbred over the years--leading to medical issues. This certainly is true of miniature schnauzers though I was slow to realize it. At any rate, Angela developed diabetes at an early age as a result of this. She would get an insulin injection once a day and would come for it willingly right about the time she would hear the sound of the kitchen cabinet that held her dog biscuits opening.

Angela, 1977
We had to put Tag to sleep a month before my sister Kay got married. He was 16 and it was time, but I am ashamed to say that I accused my Mom of having it done so he wouldn't be in the way during the wedding. I have regretted saying (or even thinking) that ever since. Angela died before I was out of graduate school and I was dogless for a number of years.

Coming up in part two: Casey, Toto, Koko, Lacey, Rosita, and Maggie

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