First dog

Friday 24 June 2016 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — summer days grow shorter

Press coverage surrounding the presidential election seems to have run out of discussion topics. For the benefit of floundering pundits everywhere, I will now helpfully suggest a new talking point: Who will be the nation’s next first dog? 

The incumbent is “Bo,” a Portuguese water dog. 

Donald Trump’s dog “Spinee” is an old yellow Labrador retriever. Hillary Clinton has three dogs: a geriatric Lab named “Seamus,” a toy poodle mix called “Tally,” and a mutt named “Maisie.”

Bernie Sanders doesn’t own a dog. Enough said.

Richard Nixon had a dog named “Checkers.” Lyndon Johnson had a beagle named, “Beagle.” Theodore Roosevelt had a pet badger. Benjamin Harrison kept a goat named, “Old Whiskers.” William Taft had a pet cow named, “Pauline Wayne.” “Billy” was Calvin Coolidge’s pygmy hippo. 

Andrew Jackson kept a parrot named “Pol” who somehow learned to curse and then proceeded to swear profusely at the president’s state funeral. Sometimes the White House can be a real zoo.

My presidential pet favorites are two greyhounds, “Le Beau” — James Buchanan’s dog and “Grim,” who belonged to Rutherford B. Hayes

Presidential pets pale in comparison to those of Queen Elizabeth II. She keeps thoroughbred horses, of course, but she is extremely fond of dogs — especially corgis. Over the years, she has owned 30 of them. 

Princess Elizabeth, on the occasion of her 18th birthday, was given a corgi. She named her “Susan.” Susan became the progenitrix of all palace corgis over the years. 

The royal corgis are pampered. They roam freely throughout the palaces, manor houses, and castles of the queen. They travel in chauffeur-driven limousines, private jets, and helicopters — all the while attended by a bevy of footmen. 

These dogs have their own rooms. Each animal sleeps in a wicker bed — raised off the floor by order of Her Royal Majesty so that the dogs are kept out of drafts. They eat two gourmet meals a day, prepared by the royal chefs. They even have an on-call animal psychologist to deal with behavioral issues. 

Shocking, I know, but sometimes there can be behavioral problems in Buckingham Palace. 

In 1954, one corgi bit the Royal Clockwinder. In 1968, another bit the postman. Still another bit a London policeman. In 1991, during a royal rumble of 10 corgis, one dog bit the queen. Stitches were required. Her Majesty was not amused. A sign was forthwith posted on the door of Balmoral Castle, “Beware of the dogs.” 

At the age of 90, the queen still enjoys her corgis, but there are only two left – “Holly” and “Willow.” The others are buried in the royal pet cemetery (complete with commemorative plaques and headstones) at her Sandringham estate in Norfolk. 

The rectory is certainly not the White House, nor is it Buckingham Palace, but we have had our share of somewhat less pampered pets over the years. The queen is down to two dogs. I am down to one. 

Maximillian Rufus, Father Cambra’s German mastiff, died of osteosarcoma at the end of December. In his final weeks, he was no longer able to follow his master around the house. He would pace at the foot of the stairs until finally giving up the attempt and spending a few nights sleeping in a place prepared for him downstairs. Eventually he would make another try and, lo and behold, make it. This happened several times. Then, one day, pain got the best of him and he gave up entirely. It was a sad day. 

Fortunately, there were still two dogs in the rectory, greyhounds Transit and Justin. Technically, Justin was not my dog. He did have two previous adopters, but I was not one of them. Justin came to me by default. 

Justin loved to be stroked. He would just stand there staring at me. “You are not my dog,” I would protest. “Your cousin Transit is my dog, not you.” Then I would pat Justin for as long as he wanted. I never did adopt Justin. He adopted me.

In April, I noticed Justin was limping. The vet took an X-ray. “Not good. Justin has osteosarcoma. He has about a month to live. Maybe two.” 

Justin could no longer negotiate the stairs. I would hold his collar so that he wouldn’t fall. Even that eventually became too much for him. In the end, he couldn’t even stand without significant pain. His last meal was a slice of linguica pizza. His time had come. It was a sad day. He was 66 in human years, according to the latest calculation of experts, but after retiring from professional sports, he lived a very good life. OK, maybe just a little pampered. 

Now there is only Transit. He is 93 in human years. Transit has been with me for a very long time. He has, though, never been the alpha dog. Now he is enjoying “first dog” status. More power to him. 

I don’t think I’ll get another dog. Maybe a parrot. Oh wait. That didn’t work out very well for President Andrew Jackson. Never mind.

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NOTE: Transit the greyhound died of old age after this column was submitted. Transit enjoyed “first dog” status for two weeks. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.


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