Anyone who has ever had a dog as a pet knows what good company they can be. Oh, they might have a repulsive habit or two, but so do a lot of humans, sometimes without the same level of tolerance.
I come by this wisdom as a man no longer young but not yet old (except to my grandsons) who has had modest experience along the way with a variety of pets.
My first exposure to pets was as an 8-year-old when my dad, a JAG officer in the U.S. Army, was stationed in Korea. My mother, my four brothers and I had to vacate post housing on Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and lived for a year in nearby Columbia. The actual pet was a beagle puppy that my oldest brother named Bullet.
Trouble was, none of us boys (aged 12 to 5) wanted to do the dirty work that comes with owning a dog, and our mom wasn’t about to do it. Her refrain: “You wanted him, you pick up after him!” Still, we adored Bullet for the eight or nine months we had him until my second oldest older brother let him run into a busy street. It would be years before I had another dog.
After Korea, my dad was stationed in Hawaii, still a new state when we arrived in 1961. We initially lived in Kaneohe, a rural area across the mountains from Honolulu. There, mysteriously, my parents agreed to let us have a couple of white rats. We named them Pixie and Dixie, after the cartoon mice whose existence involved outsmarting a cat named Jinks.
The rats were mostly boring unless they got loose during cage cleaning. They didn’t bore each other though; they got fruitful and multiplied until we had a more than a dozen, far too many for my parents, who took them to a pet store.
The next year, having found post housing at Fort Ruger, which was on the back side of Diamond Head, the Brauns acquired a cat. His name was George, but he was a she, and she had enough kittens that we each got one. I named mine Pancho.
He was a gray tabby who grew fond of my parents’ bed. Almost daily, my dad told me to keep Pancho off the bed. The cat, however, ignored my admonishments, kept returning to my parents’ bed and eventually won my dad over.
After we left Hawaii, pets were something other people had. My dad retired in 1968, we moved to Lawrence, and one fine day a few years later, Maggie and I, students at KU, met as co-workers at JB’s Big Boy restaurant (now long gone).
Maggie had a female St. Bernard named Buffy. When Maggie’s mom died, she gave Buffy to her dad, a Monsanto chemist who lived in St. Louis. Before long, co-workers at another job gave me a St. Bernard puppy as a going-away present. He was named after Cpl. Filiaga, a massive Samoan GI who drove the Army school bus we rode at Fort Ruger. In Lawrence, Phil and I lived in a basement apartment, where we entertained Maggie.
Phil was the first pet who found his way into my heart. He slept in the fireplace in the summer and inadvertently swatted a Diet Coke into the back of our TV, killing it.
Who knew Diet Cokes could be so destructive? Phil also pulled down half of the rickety front porch he was tied to while trying to chase a cat that invaded his space. He was big, big-hearted and beautiful and turned us into dog people. He was 11 when he died suddenly one snowy morning in Kingsport, Tennessee, and we cried.
Our next dog, a golden retriever named Ralph, was part of a 4-H project in Eskridge. Our sons were 5 and 3 at the time, and when we went to get Ralph, the entire litter of 8-week-old balls of golden fur bounded up to Preston, stood on their hind feet and managed to pull his shorts down while the rest of us just laughed.
Ralph is fondly remembered for, among other things, eating Kleenex out of the box, one tissue at a time. (Friends sometimes wondered why our Kleenex boxes were upside down). When Ralph died, also at 11, we scattered his ashes along the trail at Anneberg Park.
Ellie, bless her heart, is still with us. She’s 12 and, like Maggie and me, is in pretty good shape for the shape she’s in. She has the sweetest disposition of any of our pets.
We know she won’t last forever, but neither will we. In the meantime, though Ellie doesn’t quite have a seat at the table, she’s always close enough to sneak treats to.
Braun retired in 2017 as the Mercury’s editorial page editor.