As a kid, I wanted my own dog. Every TV show that I watched and every book that I read seemed to feature a boy and his dog. They didn’t go anywhere without each other. They were inseparable.
When I was just a toddler, my brothers had a dog, a big beautiful collie, named Shep, that looked just like Lassie, but she got loose from her collar one day and ran out into the street where she got hit by a passing driver.
My parents vowed to never get another dog.
And then one rainy day my mom and I visited my aunt and uncle, who owned a farm near Selinsgrove, and we came home with a little black puppy. I’ve never asked my mom if she planned to come home with a dog or if it just happened.
In any event, I had my dog — a fox terrier, a toy terrier mix. She was black, furry and the runt of the liter.
And I was scared to death.
While my mom drove, she put the puppy in a small Middleswarth potato chip box on the back floor of the car. (Back in those days, several local potato chip brands were sold in rounded cardboard boxes.) The box was only eight or ten inches high and the little puppy kept working to get out of the box. Every time we rounded a corner, she would lean against the box and try to jump out. Each time she did, I would jump too, scared that she would come for me. I remember laughing and crying at the same time and my mother, trying to calm me down from the driver’s seat.
“You’ll be okay honey, she won’t bite you. She’s scared and just wants to say hello,” my mom said. I didn’t know what to think, I just wanted my mom to drive faster so that we’d get home and she could help me take care of her.
My brothers and I would name the little puppy Snoopy. I was a big fan of the Peanuts cartoon and loved Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy, so the name was a natural. Our Snoopy looked nothing like Charlie Brown’s. Our Snoopy was all black and a mutt, but the name fit.
I might have been scared of Snoopy the first time we met, but we quickly became best friends. Snoopy and I went everywhere. We played together, we hung out together. We shared the same sandwich.
When I trudged off the school bus and landed straight into a huge puddle or was upset over that day’s spelling or math test, without fail, Snoopy would greet me at the door jumping up and down and full of excitement. She couldn’t wait to see me.
Snoopy came along at the very right time in my life. I was gawky and shy. As hard as I tried to fit in, I seemed to stand out more. But Snoopy came along and made everything better. She made me feel special just for being me.
If I spent all day Saturday playing basketball or my own make believe version of the seventh game of the World Series, Snoopy would lay on the porch waiting for me. She’d pop her head up every so often checking on me. In my mind, I thought she was clapping when I made a one-of-a-kind shot or difficult play. I’m sure she was adjusting her spot, but it didn’t matter. She never seemed to take her eyes off me.
We learn much from our parents, friends and teachers at an early age. But I learned some of the most important lessons in life from my dog. She taught me the value of friendship and kindness. She taught me that there’s nothing quite like a dog’s unfailing love.
When years later, we had to put Snoopy down, she continued to teach me, loving me to the end, she taught me about dying with dignity and grace. Snoopy had been getting more and more lethargic. We knew she was getting older, but we hoped that somehow she’d pull through and be back to the same old lovable friend that we had come to count on.
Unfortunately that wasn’t to be. I was to have one final moment with Snoopy. Her eyes were starry-eyed, she looked right through me. I said my goodbyes and told her that I loved her. And that I would always love her.
I started to get up to leave and miraculously, she gathered up all her strength and reached out to lick my hands one last time. Friends until the end.
And to think it all began in a small potato chip box.