You Never Forget Your First Dog

Why would parents add a dog to a crowded house?

Posted Dec 26, 2011

My first dog, Jerri

I grew up in a fairly large family--5 kids, one bathroom. I was 9 years younger than my nearest sibling, Sue.  When I was 3, we moved from St. Louis to Jefferson City, MO. About a year later, my parents promised me a dog.

I can't remember asking for one, but I must have.  Why else would my parents add a dog to such a crowded house?

I remember the day I got Jerri. She was a tiny pup, black with a patch of white on her chest. When I held her, she melted into me. I fell in love instantly. Jerri was a gift from my father's best friend and cousin, Jerry Walther--hence her name.

My father was out of town that day and I couldn't wait to show him MY puppy. After what seemed like forever, I saw the white Ford station wagon pull up in front of our house.

Dad got out of the Galaxy, walked around and opened the tailgate. Out popped a large, hyperactive, hound that lumbered next to him as he walked toward me. I was horrified and wondered what this creature was doing at my house.

It turns out that Dad had no idea his friend had found a puppy for me. While traveling through Southern Missouri that day, Dad had come across someone that had a dog they were happy to be rid of (or at least that is how I remember it).

The hound, already named Patsy, never had a chance. She was bigger than me. She was hyperactive and Ritalin was not prescribed to dogs in 1964. But most of all, she wasn't Jerri. Obviously, Patsy had to go, and she did.

Jerri had been described as a "pocket beagle"-supposedly she was a dog that should remain small enough to fit in your pocket.  In reality, she could not be described as anything other than a mutt, a sweet and loveable mutt.

In my memories, she was always by my side. Many of the photographs from my childhood include her. Once my sisters dressed me up in a topcoat and hat. In the black and white picture, there is Jerri , on her hind legs, reaching her fronts paws up toward me, with her tongue curled, trying to lick me. Jerri was my best friend.

Alas, as I grew up, she became less and less of my focus even though I still loved her immensely. The summer before I left for college, she approached me one day, limping and with an unrecognizable expression on her face. It was clear something was wrong.

Dr. Burgess said she had a stroke and he kept her for observation. When my mom approached me the next day, I already knew what she was going to say.

In a strange way, I found it easier to leave for college that fall, knowing that Jerri was gone. A part of me had felt guilty knowing I would be leaving my friend behind. When I look back now, I realize that the average lifespan of a dog is about the time it takes a child to grow up. Jerri left when her work was done.

Copyright Barb and Greg Markway 2011

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