The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Irish Setter’


Let’s begin at the beginning which we know is a very good place to start.  My love affair with dogs started very shortly after I made my way into the world – kicking and screaming and annoyed at the bright lights in the delivery room which had disturbed the comfortable warm, dark and secure accommodations I had previously enjoyed.

A short while later I went to a new place that I would call home until the time that I went off to college.  It was a small apartment filled with an amazingly loving and wonderful buff colored Cocker Spaniel named Taffy who would act as a surrogate guardian for my parents and grandmother.

Mom and this guy called Dad had disappeared for about a week on something that was called a honeymoon.  They had been married on Flag Day and ten days and a year later I popped into the world.  This was back in the days when the sequence of events was getting married and then having children.  Even then, (although we had not yet invented the word), there were people who were dyslexic and got these instructions backwards – but they were relatively few in number and polite people didn’t talk about them.

Now Mom had gotten Taffy as a puppy – but by the time of her marriage he was twelve years old and very devoted to her.  She was concerned that he might be jealous of this new addition to the family.  As it turned out, she had nothing to fear.  Taffy considered it his duty to take care of this baby, sleeping by the side of my crib, ever vigilant should anything or anyone disturb me.

Perhaps he saw in me a kindred spirit.  Maybe it was the fact that I pooped and piddled with abandon in those old fashioned cloth diapers which Mom and Grandma had to wash out and launder and then reuse.  Perhaps those smells reminded him of the others of his kind whom he knew only by the aroma that they left on the fire hydrant down the street.  In any event, Taffy assumed the role of my protector and guarded me with all his might.

After awhile my parents decided to introduce me to the wonders of Central Park.  I had a big English stroller carriage and Taffy and I would ride in it together.  I would gum his ears with my mouth and do the same to his nose.  He reciprocated these affronts to his dignity by showering my hands and face with licks and then would resume his rest at the foot of the carriage, always attentive if a stranger came too close to his baby.

Taffy lived to be nearly seventeen.  I was in the apartment but sleeping when he passed away near my little bed.  My parents removed his body before I awakened and had it cremated.  When I got up that morning I remember looking for him.  That was when I first became aware of the principle that where there is life there is also death.  I remember crying inconsolably at the loss of my very devoted friend.

A week later my folks came home with Taffy’s ashes – and a new addition to our little family.  This was a pure black Cocker Spaniel puppy whom they named Ace.  And after Ace there was Andy and a succession of wonderful companion dogs with whom I have been privileged to share my home and my heart with the sole exception of the four years I lived in college dorms.

One of those dogs was a gift, some were rescues, all have been wonderful friends.  Whether it was the two goofy Irish Setters, Finney and Tristan, the wonderful Newfoundland/Belgian Shepherd mix, Josh, the German Shepherd mix, Dusty, the Golden Retrievers, Dickens and Spenser and now, my Lane Bryant girl the Irish Wolfhound look alike, Gracie.  They have all been the most constant and devoted companions.  And, of course, now there are the three Golden Retrievers for whom Gracie and I have been surrogate parents for much of this past year, Bubba, Bébé and Kali.

I had expected their owner to ask us to care for them over Thanksgiving as he was hoping to visit relatives out of town.  As it turned out that trip did not occur and so Gracie and I celebrated the holiday together.  But on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I received a call from him to let me know that he wasn’t feeling well and thought that, if I could, it would be better for them to stay a few days with me rather than with his girlfriend and her three dogs.  So I arranged to meet her at the dog park to pick up the kids.  Gracie and I hadn’t seen them for just over two weeks.

When we got to the park, I could see Kali was the closest of the three.  Her parents were at the far end and were facing away from Gracie and me.  She suddenly spotted the two of us and took off in our direction, running and barking in her very treble voice.  This caused mom and dad to turn around and they too began running toward us at full kilter.

I would have to say that this reunion lasted for at least five minutes, all three of them showering their affection on both Gracie and me and raising such a ruckus that four people who were passing by the outer fence of the park stopped to watch the whole thing.  One of the men in the park came over and said I must be the “Dog Whisperer” of Las Vegas.

I don’t know why dogs seem to have an affinity for me or I for them.  Perhaps it is because we are cast from the same mold of simplicity.  They ask for so little.  A home, some food and water and a little bit of love.  Yet they return so much loyalty and affection for what we bestow on them.  And as for me, the gratitude I see in their face after they have enjoyed a meal, followed by one of them curling up in my lap is the greatest gift I could imagine receiving.

If all our world leaders had a companion dog as a guide to teach them their ways this might be a more harmonious planet.  For in the end, we make the choice if we should follow a path of anger and hatred and war – or whether we should walk down the road letting the simple joy of loving be our guide.


After losing my Irish Setter, Finney there was a definite emptiness in the apartment.  Acting as his seeing-eye person for over fifteen years had probably brought us even closer than the typical relationship between a loving companion person and their canine best friend.

A period of time went by when I debated whether it would be disloyal to Finney’s memory to consider finding another companion.  But after a few months I realized that he devoted his life to making me happy and I was sure that he would approve of my finding another friend.

I was able to find an Irish Setter breeder about forty miles from Chicago in a northwest suburb.  I called to inquire if she had any puppies that were for sale to a good home.  The breeder, Irene met my inquiry with a series of questions to determine whether I would be a fit companion for one of her dogs.

I could tell that she wasn’t impressed with my being a single person, living in an apartment, working long hours and attempting to raise a puppy.  But I explained that I had lost my blind Irish Setter and had been his seeing-eye person for 15 years and that seemed to thaw some of the iciness in her tone.  She agreed to meet me – to evaluate whether I was a worthy candidate.

After an hour interview with Irene she suggested that she had a puppy who was seven months old and it would probably be better for both of us to take a dog who was a little older than an eight or ten week old.  I agreed.  So she sold Tristan to me, but she had a lot of stipulations.

I was required, under the terms of the sale, to call her every day for the first two weeks Tristan and I were together to give her a progress report.  The next two weeks I had to call her at least three times a week for the same purpose.  After that I had to call her at least weekly for the next two months.  If I failed to make those calls, she had the right to “repossess” Tristan.

I thought this was a little bit much but at the same time I appreciated how concerned she was about the people who would be companions to her dogs.  And as it turned out, calling Irene became less of an obligation than an opportunity to speak with a new friend.  In fact, we became extremely good friends and she came to dinner several times.  I think she enjoyed seeing Tristan more than my cooking.

Tristan was your typical goofy Irish Setter – but more so.  If you’ve heard that Irish Setters are stubborn – you’ve heard correctly.  Tristan would always do what I asked of him – if he had a mind to do so.  If not, he would look at me with his beautiful mahogany face and beam an expression that I translated as “In your dreams.”  But like all the Irish Setters I had known he loved people – he loved everybody.  He lived to love people.

When he was three years old I had come home late from the office – but knowing I would be home late I had come home during lunch to take him for a midday walk.  I quickly prepared his dinner and then we went out for our usual mile long walk.  It was a crisp fall evening and we both felt invigorated by the gusting wind and the cool temperature.  As we were returning on the loop home, a man came up to us.  I sensed a threat in his body language as he approached us on a not particularly well-lit side street.

I thought about crossing the street simply to avoid a possible incident but as I started to take Tristan across the street, he rushed up to us, brandishing a large hunting knife.  He demanded my money and watch.

Having been through a mugging once, I wasn’t about to put up any resistance.  But as I reached for my wallet, Tristan pulled free of my hand and attacked the man’s left leg – viciously.  The assailant dropped the knife in the bushes and tried to kick at Tristan to free him from his leg.  I could see that Tristan had ripped the man’s pants and later, when we got home, I saw blood on his muzzle.  He had done some damage while protecting me.

I started to yell for help and at the same time tried to pull Tristan away so that the man wouldn’t be able to harm him.  I finally got him to release his grip on the man’s leg and my assailant, deciding that he had met his match, started running – or more exactly – limping away from us.  Tristan and I made our way home and I called the police to report the incident.

When the police arrived to take my report their first comment was that I would have to have Tristan impounded for observation for a two week period.  This was the ordinance regarding dogs who bit humans.  Obviously, I thought that this was ludicrous.  Tristan wouldn’t have bitten anyone if I hadn’t been assailed by a thug.

The good news was that I could keep him at my vet’s for observation.  Since I had a great relationship with the two vets who owned the practice, I knew that I could keep him at home and have them sign off on his quarantine after the appropriate time passed.

Well, the police never apprehended my potential assailant.  And Tristan came through his “quarantine” with flying colors.  I did have him examined as I was concerned he might have caught something from the man who tried to attack us.

Several weeks later I ran into a member of the church choir that I had directed several years earlier.  Isobella was a Hispanic lady whose family came from Guatemala.  She worked in the medical industry and enjoyed the usual socially liberal mindset with which most in my neighborhood felt comfortable.  I hadn’t seen her for quite a few months – and as it happened – this incident happened just a few doors from her apartment.

After describing the incident, Isobella looked at me and asked, “So when are you going to have your dog put to sleep?”

Naturally, this question not only disturbed me because I wondered about the state of my friend’s sanity, but it also ticked me off.  How had Isobella come to the idea that this loving animal should be destroyed for doing his job and saving me from what could have become a nasty incident.  So I asked her to explain that statement.

She said, “Well, think about it.  If you had been attacked and even stabbed, you have medical insurance.  You could have gotten treatment.  But the guy who was going to attack you is probably poor, most likely does not have insurance and will probably go through the rest of his life with a bad leg.”

I know that I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that my Chicago neighborhood was in the Illinois State Senate district that gave President Obama his political start.  I can also say with one hundred percent certainty that Isobella would have cast her vote for him, not only for the Illinois Senate but subsequently.

If there is anyone out there who wonders why this President is presiding over the worst economy since the Great Depression I would refer you back to Isobella’s thought process.  People with her mindset are responsible for putting him in the White House.

As for me and my more rational readers, I would suggest that we might all be better off if we franchised the canine vote.  At least they have a realistic way of looking at how the world really works.


After I lost Dusty I experienced one of the deepest despairs of my life.  Perhaps because he had been so brutally abused as a young dog I always felt that more than with any of my other companion dogs I had to show him as much love as my soul possessed.  As much as I tried I was never certain that was sufficient to overcome the abuse he had known.

Of all the companions I have had throughout my life, I have to admit that I took his death the hardest.  His good friend, my Golden Retriever, Spenser whom he had raised clung even more to me than before Dusty died.

I knew there were people who were well-intentioned and would ask me, “Are you going to get another dog.”  People who made that remark generally didn’t have dogs in their own lives.  Their view of animals was that they were possessions, like a lamp or a rug.  If it wears out or the fashion changes you get a new one.  They’ve sadly missed one of the most important relationships that helps us understand our humanity.

On the one hand I did want to get Spenser a companion.  I wanted him to have the companionship he had known – and perhaps grow into being the teacher rather than the student.  It was, however, far too soon for me.

A year and a half went by and I was looking to list some items on Craig’s List, searching for the appropriate category.  As I was perusing the items that were listed, I happened to see a picture – a picture of a beautiful puppy with a loving face.  She was the last of a litter of ten and was being given away to a good home.  I knew that this was to be Spenser’s new companion – and mine.

When I called, the family said that she had been tentatively adopted.  The family’s kids had named her, Spike.  I put forth my emotional best, telling them how I had enjoyed the company of dogs my entire life, had taken care of my blind Irish Setter, Finney for over fifteen years; in general I talked myself up as a responsible, caring and loving person who, if Spike and I were to come together as a family would provide only the best food, the greatest care and as much love as anyone could offer.

So they agreed to meet with me.

I drove to their home about an hour later and fell in love with Spike (although I was less fond of her name).  So after we chatted for a bit they said they would be happy for me to have her (the previous adopted parents had backed out while I was driving there.  They decided this puppy was going to grow up to be too big for their apartment).

I asked them if they would hold her to the following day so that I would have time to buy the stuff necessary to “puppy-proof” the house.  I think that they would have preferred that Spike and I leave together so that they could break down the area where they held the puppies, but they finally agreed to my request.

So I left Spike with them, went to a variety of places where I found stuff that made drawers baby and puppy-proof and got all the rest of the accoutrements necessary to welcome a new member of the family into a house that was secure from her intrusions.  I also stopped by Border’s to pick up a CD for the kids.

When I met with the family it was clear that the kids had enjoyed the experience of seeing the ten puppies grow during their eight weeks with them – and that they missed those puppies as they disappeared one by one.  Dad assured them that they would have family “reunions” and they would see the puppies again.  But that never happened – although I would have enjoyed meeting Spike’s siblings.  So, believing that this might actually be in the cards in the future, I had a plan to change Spike’s name and I wanted the kids to agree to this change – hence the CD.

The next day I returned to pick up Spike as we had agreed.  It was Sunday and the kids were home.  Now the family lived in an area all of whose streets had musical attributions.  There was Verdi Way, Arpeggio Lane and they happened to live on Handel Street.

When I met the kids I showed them Spike’s new collar and lead and the toys I had bought for her – just to reassure them that she was going to be happy in her new home with me.  They seemed to think I was okay – so that was step one in my plan for changing Spike’s name.  Then I handed them the CD.

I explained, that once upon a time, before there were CD’s we had something to play music which we called records.  The very first record which I bought was “Messiah” written by a man named Georg F. Handel – the same man for whom their street had been named.  (This seemed to impress them – at least a little).

Then I explained that on that record, there was a soloist who was a black woman.  I pointed out that Spike was also black and a girl.  (They seemed to be warming up to my presentation a little).

And I explained that woman was a very famous singer.  Her name was Grace Bumbry.

So, in conclusion, I said, “Since you live on Handel Street, and since Spike is black and a girl and since this wonderful singer was named Grace – would it be okay if I were to change Spike’s name to Gracie?”  They smiled and agreed with me.

And that’s how Gracie got her name.



The May Jobs Report released this morning was abysmal.  Unemployment ticked up and the number of jobs we thought we created in April and March were revised downward.

Clearly the economy could and should be doing better at this point in the recovery.  Virtually everyone agrees on that point.  So until things really turn around it is imperative that we really try to cut our expenses as much as possible.

I would like to offer a proposal that would save us hundreds of millions of dollars.  While I realize that represents only a small percentage of our GDP, at least it’s a start – and we have to start somewhere.

This proposal saves us the cost of our participating in the process which we call voting – by eliminating it.  I know this may offend my more conservative readers to whose principles I generally adhere.  But I would like to think that I am a person who can see the handwriting on the wall (or is it merely graffiti)?

As more of our  Constitutionally-guaranteed rights disappear, can the elimination of our right to elect those who represent us be far behind?

In theory, being able to express our opinions at the ballot box is how we separate the wheat from the chaff and select the brightest and best – those who truly represent our interests and the best interests of our country.  But what more direct way is there to determine that than by having the candidates compete in an intellectual contest – the smarter being declared the winner?

Consider the hundreds of millions which we spend on the voting process.  Printing election materials, hiring people to serve as poll watchers, the amount of gas that is consumed to get to the polls, the cost of conducting trials over whether contributions are being accepted in violation of election laws.  All money down the drain.

Before coming to a judgment as to the worthiness of this plan I would ask that you read through to the end.

The two candidates for President of the United States will take a multiple choice exam consisting of 50 questions, one for each state of the Union.  The instructions for completing the exam follow:

Gentlemen.  You are here today competing for the high office of President of the United States.  Do not open your exam booklets until you are instructed to do so by your proctor who is an employee of OSHA.  This agency was chosen so that in the event this material overtaxes your gray matter and the proctor detects any wisps of smoke coming from your ears, he will be able to notify the appropriate emergency medical service of your condition and you will be treated for your incapacity.

This multiple-choice exam consists of two parts of 25 questions each.  You will be given three hours to complete Part I at which time there will be an hour’s break.  During that break you will be provided with a seven course box lunch prepared by a highly over-rated chef.  A number of Hollywood celebrities will provide entertainment for your amusement.

(Who will be making an appearance will depend on which stars have successfully completed their detox treatment and/or community service).

After your luncheon break you will have three hours to complete Part II.

Your tests will then be scored.  Please keep in mind that on this test a perfect score consists of answering 25 questions or less correctly in keeping with our philosophy that average is better.  Furthermore, should you both achieve the same score, there will be an elimination round that will determine the winner.  The details of that phase of the competition will be explained should there be the necessity to do so.

Before you begin your examination, please note that you must circle your answer using black and only black ink.  Should you decide to change your answer after reviewing it, you will find that you have been provided a bottle of White-Out.  You must completely eradicate your original answer.  Excessive use of White-Out may disqualify your answers from being included in your total score.  (The definition of what constitutes “excessive” is currently being determined by a committee.  Hopefully, we should have their report by the time you conclude your examination).

Open your booklets, ready, begin …

I have randomly taken ten of the fifty questions and listed them below in order to give you a flavor for the exam.

1.  George Washington was:

a.  A man who built a bridge in New York.
b.  A man who moved on up and owned a chain of dry cleaning stores.
c.  A man who liked corn on the cob but couldn’t eat it because he had  serious dental challenges.
d.  A fictional character invented by right-wing Fascist historical revisionists.

2.  If you were an Irish Setter you would want to:

a.  Live in Boston and drink with your friends at “Cheers”.
b.  Live in Boston, drink with your friends at “Cheers” and go home to your beautiful Irish Setter bitch.
c.  Ride on the top of your owner’s car when the family went on vacation.
d.  Not be eaten for cultural or any other reasons.

3.  Medicare is:

a.  A company that rents private jets to wealthy doctors.
b.  Doing its best to sink the economy.
c.  A company that rents private jets to wealthy doctors who take lobbyists and politicians along for weekend junkets.
d.  A program that will no longer exist when you need it.

4.  My greatest scholastic achievement was:

a.  I voted present more times than anyone else in my class.
b.  I bullied kids who were wimpy and deserved it.
c.  I was usually able to find my classroom.
d.  In class I invented a new action game called “warfare”.

5.  My view of foreign relations is:

a.  They can be fun if you don’t get caught leaving the hotel room.
b.  I have quite a few scattered around the globe.
c.  You have to be nice to them since we owe them so much money.
d.  Most of them have moved here illegally.

6.  The difference between a tomato and a potato is:

a.  There is no difference – Dan Quayle can’t spell either word.
b.  There has never been a tomato famine in Ireland.
c.  Their skin color defines them as minorities and they are both entitled to benefits.
d.  You can’t make vodka or French fries out of tomatoes.

7.  Telling the truth is:

a.  Generally a bad idea.
b.  It all depends on how you define the word “the”.
c.  Very damaging to a person’s reputation.
d.  Truth is such a malleable thing that by the time you’ve finished telling it, it has morphed into something else.

8.  People should not set goals for themselves because:

a.  If they meet them they just look like a bunch of stuck-up, snobby successes and everyone will hate them.
b.  We will define your goals for you.
c.  Only goals in sports really matter.
d.  I’ve never set goals and look where it’s gotten me.

9.  The economy is:

a.  A class of service found on an airline.
b.  None of my concern.
c.  In the crapper.
d.  All of the above.

10. I should be President of the United States because:

a.  I’ve made all the money I need and want to improve my golf game.
b.  I resent people who are more successful than I and am determined to equalize them.
c.  I have experience in both the private and public sectors.
d.  When I make a gaffe at a private party no one notices.  But when I insult our allies publically, I get a lot of media attention.  And I love media attention.

As it turned out, our two candidates tied on this exam and thus we had to invoke the tie breaker rule.

Come back a little later today and I’ll tell you how that played out.


It was a crisp fall evening and I was walking my Irish Setter, Finney in the park across the street from my apartment. I hoped that he would do his thing quickly as I was a little under-dressed for the weather. I thought that he would as I had come home from work a little later than usual and I was sure that he would like to have his dinner which had been delayed.

As we walked on our usual route I noticed a lot of movement in the park’s trees. I didn’t know what caused this until I got closer.

The trees had lost most of their leaves in the autumn weather but they were full nevertheless. They were filled with Monarch butterflies which had come to rest on their long migration from Canada to South America. I had never seen anything like this before and I stood there for several moments in admiration of this amazing miracle.

The trees literally shimmered in movement as these graceful creatures fluttered their wings covering every available inch of each branch. There must have been thousands of them. Orange and black butterflies, resting up for the night so that they could continue their thousand mile journey in the morning.

Although Finney was blind he sensed that they were there. He too looked toward the trees and then sat down – as though in appreciation of this fragile gift of the wonderful earth that we all shared.

When I took Finney out for his morning walk the Monarchs had left on their continuing journey. But I will never forget that night when I saw the thousands of them in all their glory.

Their presence that evening helped me gain an appreciation for what a wonderful and beautiful world we humans are privileged to share with all creation. And what a miracle life is.


 She, Laverne and Shirley started the whole thing off. Laverne and Shirley was a dog – possibly one of the most unattractive dogs I have ever seen. I think that she was a terrier mix with a hint of beagle and I’m not sure what else. She sat in a way that suggested she was a low class hooker looking to attract a potential trick.

I was out walking my Irish Setter, Tristan when I saw her in the park across the street from my apartment. It was the dead of winter – and although I tried approaching her to take her home with me, she was more afraid of me than the inclement weather. So I took Tristan home, grabbed some dog treats and went back out to see whether she would come to me.

By that time one of my neighbors who had also spotted her, was in the park trying to accomplish the same rescue mission. It took the two of us an hour before we were able to get her to trust us.

My neighbor, said that I had to adopt her. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea. But after ten minutes of debate in the exceptional cold, I agreed that I would consider it and take her to my vet to get her checked out.

At that point my neighbor, a lady originally from northern Italy said in her still rather thick accent, “We call her Laverne and Shirley because she have such a split personality.”

So Laverne and Shirley and I got in my car headed for my vet’s office. It was an early Saturday morning and they would just have opened by the time I drove the eight miles to get there.

As we went down Stony Island Avenue, I saw a little black ball of fur run across the street about fifty yards ahead of me. I thought to myself, “What the heck – I’ve got one in the front seat – why not throw one in the back?” And so Josh, who turned out to be a one hundred thirty pound Belgian Shepherd/Newfoundland mix came into my life. In the course of an hour I had turned from being a one dog family into one with three of them.

But it didn’t stop there. Over the course of the next three months I found thirty-seven dogs and was boarding them all with my vets. Apparently my neighborhood was a fertile dumping ground for unloading unwanted animals.

Even though my vets were great to me and gave me a discounted rate to board them – I think I put three of their kids through Harvard. But eventually I did find good homes for all of them.

Tristan was already an adult and Josh grew very quickly. Laverne and Shirley began looking like a dwarf at only thirty pounds. It was obvious, when I came home and found that she had eaten a love seat, that she needed a home where she could be spoiled as the only dog. So I found one for her and she lived to be seventeen years old.

I have always had a love affair with dogs, (although the couch episode tested this appreciation to its fullest). Dogs have an amazingly wonderful quality.

They’re honest.

There’s no equivocation, no posturing, no subterfuge. If they love you they love you without reservation. I think they have some kind of sense that we humans lack. They seem intuitively to know whom they think are worthy of their affection. And I am honored that most of the dogs I have met seem to accept me warmly.

When I move into the great beyond I am going to have to ask the ones I have been privileged to know and loved about that.

I truly hope that Laverne and Shirley hasn’t been eating too many couches in my absence.



 It was about two weeks before Christmas. I had been invited by one of my former professors to join him and his family for dinner. As he was one of my favorite teachers, I looked forward to spending an evening with them.

 He lived in an area called Madison Park – well within walking distance from my apartment.

 I was checking the numbers on the glass entry ways and was four apartment buildings away from my professor’s home when I was grabbed by three thugs with switch blades, forced into the lobby of the closest building, made to lie on the floor – and that’s the last I remember.

 Apparently, one of my assailants knocked me unconscious with a strong kick to my head. When I awoke, I remember being mad at myself for leaving the windows of my apartment open. I was freezing cold. Not only had my attackers taken my wallet – as little as it contained – they had taken almost all my clothes. It was about twenty degrees outside.

 I remember making the effort to get up and then lying back down on the cold tile floor of the apartment building’s foyer. Fortunately, one of the residents of the building came home, saw me lying there half-naked and went to her apartment to phone the police.

 I spent three days in the hospital with a minor concussion. What concerned my doctors more than the concussion was the damage which had been done near my right eye. They were concerned that I might lose the sight in the eye and possibly the eye itself. But I was lucky. Their fears proved themselves to be unfounded and I was left with good sight – but a very nasty bruise on the side of my face. This took almost two months before it healed completely.

 At the time I was the organist at St. Thomas the Apostle Church. I had gotten to know many of the Dominican nuns who taught at the church’s school and they decided to work on a new mission – to get me a dog for “protection.” They worked their magic among the parishioners and took up a collection for this purpose.

 The result of their efforts was that after I finished playing for services one Sunday I was met by Mother Mary Margaret, the convent’s Superior and a formidable woman. In a large bassinet rested a little Irish Setter puppy. Mother Mary handed this adorable puppy to me and said, “This puppy is for you so that you have both company and protection.”

 I was overwhelmed – but my life-long love of dogs, that adorable face with its tongue constantly sticking out and wanting to lick someone – made my decision easy.

 I gratefully accepted the puppy and carried him in his transport to my apartment. This, of course, demonstrated that while Dominican nuns might be well-versed in the arts of education, they had little knowledge of dog breeds.

 Well, Father Featherstonehaughe and I came home. (That was his official name). In case you’re wondering how it is pronounced, it is an ancient Welsh name and the correct pronunciation is Finshaw. Who can quibble with the vagaries of the Welsh tongue? And so Finney – as he was better known – came into my life and heart.

 Irish Setters had become very popular and were over-bred. Finney was a victim of that popularity and had a genetic defect – Progressive Retinal Attrition. He started losing his sight when he was six months old and by the time he was one and one half years he was totally blind. Because of the gradual loss of his sight he had acclimated to my apartment and rarely bumped into anything. For the next fifteen years I had the privilege of being his “seeing-eye person.”

 Finney was one of the most loving animals on the planet. When someone came up to us, he liked nothing better than to lick that person’s hand – and, if he thought he could get away with it – jump up and extend his admiration to their face.

 When he was three years old I had him out for his evening stroll in the park across from our apartment. A man was walking about 100 feet away from us. This man was acting strangely. As he walked he would jerk spasmodically and talk to himself. I thought he was either drunk or on drugs.

 I don’t know what Finney was thinking but he sat down on my feet – pointing in the direction of this man – and began snarling. (I had never heard him do this before). As the man walked through the park, Finney swiveled on his rump, remaining on my feet, and continued pointing at this man. And he kept snarling.

 When I got back to my apartment building I ran into one of my neighbors and described what had happened. She was incredulous. “Finney snarled at someone? That’s ridiculous. He’s the sweetest dog in the world,” she said.

 I dismissed the event for three weeks until I came home one night and picked up my mail. The weekly edition of the local newspaper had arrived. As I was reading through it I saw a picture of the man from the park in the “Police Blotter” section. He had been arrested for committing multiple home break-ins in the neighborhood.

 Finney never snarled at anyone again for the rest of his life.

 So to get to the title of this post – one of the things that I remember more than all of grandma’s other bits of simple wisdom was this statement:

 “Never trust people who don’t like dogs. And never trust people who dogs don’t like.”

 It has been my life-long experience that in this, as in so many other things, grandma was right.


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