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Carol Reiter: Happy to Be a family again

Carol Reiter

The basset is gone.

The sweet girl who threw my dogs into a tizzy for a couple of weeks went back to her home, and her family, last weekend. The family had been out of town and came home to missing dogs. They found my ad in the paper, and Lilly the basset was home the next day.

I kind of miss the big lug of a dog, she was just pure sweetness. There wasn't a mean bone in her body, and although she could bark with the best of them, her barks weren't about being mean or threatening. When Lilly the basset barked, she wanted something. She wanted the heater turned on, she wanted a soft place to sleep, she wanted a midnight snack of dog food to crunch on.

Although I miss Lilly a bit, my dogs certainly don't. Peg is back to being a halfway decent dog, not trying to escape at every chance. Jan sleeps peacefully on my bed at night, not worried about what a big, drooling, ear-flapping basset is doing in her bedroom and her life.

And Lenny has finally stopped lurking around, giving black-eyed looks to both me and the poor basset hound. Len was convinced that if he was mean enough that the darn hound would disappear. I guess he figures it worked, because, hey, the dog is gone.

The basset visit was just a little blip in our lives, and despite the fact that I have brought home quite a variety of rescue dogs over the years, my dogs just can't quite accept the fact that I willingly bring these dogs home.

And over the years, my own pack of dogs grew, along with the number of rescue dogs that I had. Then last year, all of a sudden, most of my dogs were old. It seemed to creep up on me, the fact that I didn't have young, athletic dogs anymore, but instead had dogs that were coming up on the last days of their lives.

It broke my heart to lose those dogs -- Amos, Ty, Ted, Maggie, Ox, Jessie -- and suddenly I wasn't the owner of a pack of dogs anymore. All of a sudden I just had four dogs.

Now to a lot of people, four dogs is a lot. For me, it's not. Four dogs are easy to deal with, there is a kennel for every one of them, and I actually have two out of four dogs that will stay in a yard and not jump a fence. That hasn't happened for a while, believe me.

I was sitting on my back porch the other night, thinking about how I had gone down to just four dogs. The dogs were poking around the backyard, smelling and sniffing and scaring cats and chickens half to death. I had Kate next to me, curled up against my body, trying to get some warmth from me.

Peg and Jan were keeping their eyes on me, hoping that I would turn my back and forget about them so that they could leap the fence and take off down the field. But I kept telling them to stay in the yard, I could see exactly what they were doing, and if they jumped the fence I would leave them in their cold kennel all night.

Len was snuffling around, trying to find every last morsel of dog food that might be around. I watched him for a minute, thinking that it was great that he could no longer jump the fence.

Then I realized why Lenny can't jump the fence. He's going to 9 years old in a couple of months.

Nine years old. My God, where has the time gone? I can remember that evil little dog being born, and I remember how Len and Zeke, Len's hoodlum brother, were the baddest puppies I'd had in a long time.

And that was just a couple of years ago, I swear it was. Len couldn't be almost 9, that had to be a mistake.

But he will celebrate that birthday this spring. And Jan will be 5 in the summer, and Peg turns 3 next month. Kate just had her birthday -- she's 13.

Wow. All of a sudden I have older dogs again, and the young dogs are getting older by the minute. That hit home hard that night on the back porch, while I was watching Len potter around, and I realized that he was even starting to move like an older dog.

It made me sad for a while, because I know that eventually I will have to face the loss of these dogs. Kate has had me worried for a while, she's not getting any younger and I love her dearly. It will hurt like heck when she goes, even though I know that she's had a long, healthy, happy life.

But then I realized that those dogs are finally, finally turning into decently-behaved animals, and the only thing I can attribute that to is their age.

I've said it before, I like old dogs. Now I know why. They are easy to live with, mellow, and don't want too much in life, just a warm place to sleep and a lot of love. I think that's what most of us want, and it's so easy to give. And best of all, I enjoy giving it.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.

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