National Dog Day: How Dogs Changed My Life

According to about a million posts on social media, today is National Dog Day. It’s one of those made-up holidays, like National Pretzel Day and National Talk Like a Pirate Day, but seeing everyone’s sweet dog pictures reminded me of the many dogs who have come into my life over the years.

I got my first dog when I was about two years old.  I got to name him so of course I named him Ginga Haha.  I have no clue where I came up with that, I had a bit of a speech impediment until kindergarten and it could be I was trying to say something else.  Or I just made it up, hard to tell now.

Anyway, that’s Ginga Haha in the picture at the beginning of this post.  As you can see he and I were an adorable duo – I’m the one in the pink dress.  Ginga, as we called him for short, was the first living being that was “mine” and I loved him passionately.  It was just me and Ginga until my sister Mary Elizabeth was born when I was three.  As my sister grew into a toddler, it became clear that Ginga was not fond of her.  While he apparently tolerated pulling and pinching and sudden movements from me at that age, with her, Ginga got snappy.

One day when I was about five, my parents told me Ginga was moving to a farm in the country and that he’d be happier there without my sister to bug him.  They said he would be able to run free instead of being trapped in our small yard in the city. I watched from the window as what I now know was animal control led him to  a van full of cages, dragging him along by a rabies pole around his neck. Even at age five I wasn’t naive enough to believe that Ginga was going to a farm.

I was devastated and resolved to never love another dog again.  Although my parents had other dogs over the years, I never got particularly attached to them because I knew they were all one bad behavior away from leaving with animal control.  And several others did.  Side note: if you aren’t prepared to take care of a dog, don’t adopt one.

When I became an adult I worked at the Humane Society and that re-kindled my love for dogs. Unfortunately, I was living in apartments then and couldn’t take any home.   It wasn’t until several years later when I was living in Portland that the time was right for dogs to come into my heart again.


After several break-ins of cars in our driveway, my roommate Missy and I convinced our landlord to let us get a dog.  We went to the shelter and found what I have to say, without any qualification, the best dog who ever lived.

We called him Snuffalufagus, or Snuffy for short, after the big clumsy goofy guy on Sesame Street.  Snuffy was a giant dog, well over 100 pounds, and when he stood up and put his front legs on my shoulders he could look me right in the eye. He had huge eyes the color of tootsie pops.  Snuffy loved dancing and hiking and swimming, but most of all he loved me and Missy.  Snuffy was the first dog I let into my heart after losing Ginga all those years before.

When my then 88-year-old Grandpa came to live with me, Snuffy was his constant companion.  Although Grandpa was nervous about the big dog, they became fast friends. When my grandpa died sleeping in his recliner Snuffy sat with his head on my grandpa’s leg while we waited for the coroner to come take his body.

After Grandpa died, Snuffy was depressed and lonely, and that’s when Nina came into our lives.


Nina was my Marley & Me dog, she was always in trouble.  She and Snuffy bonded and she made him happy again, but Nina was a handful.  Nina was an escape artist who would go to great lengths to be free. This was exacerbated by her intense anxiety.  Not long after I got her it was the 4th of July and I had gone to a barbecue.  When I came home she was on the roof of the porch, covered in blood from going through a glass window trying to escape.

Nina never met an enclosure she couldn’t get out of.  Once I was boarding her at the vet’s office and I told them she’d be able to escape the kennel.  They scoffed, pointing out that the fence was 6 feet tall with only a small opening at the top.  Nina escaped in about 30 seconds and beat us back to lobby.  Once she jumped on the counter, broke through the screen of the kitchen window and was later found inside the neighbor’s yard after scaling their tall fence.  Apparently she wanted to visit their dog.

Nina wasn’t much of a dancer but she loved when I sang to her.  Nina was also super intuitive.  When I had my mother staying with me for a while I figured out that Nina could tell when her sugar was off, and could predict her diabetic emergencies right before they happened.  She would cuddle up to you when you were sick, and when I had an extremely traumatic break-up Nina was glued to my side for days while I cried.

After Snuffy died we briefly shared space with Bandy, an elderly cranky dog with many health problems.  Nina acted like a mother hen with him, as she did with all of us.

I already had Nina and Bandy when I somehow got suckered into fostering a dog named Slim.  He never left foster care and eventually I adopted him, as I knew I would the minute I met him.

Slim was a 3-legged pitbull who had apparently been a bait dog for dog fighting.  He was small for his breed and had a heart murmur.  If he got too excited his trachea would collapse and he would pass out until it relaxed.


When Slim came to us he was young and energetic.  My sister and I used to stand at opposite ends of the house and call him, making him do his “Pony Express Dog” run back and forth to wear him out some.  Slim’s favorite trick was when we placed a treat on his nose and made him wait for us to say “free”, then he’d toss it up in the air and catch it.

He was also a bit of a bully to the other two dogs, and although Nina could hold her own poor Bandy hated him with a passion, and the feeling was mutual.  He was unpredictable around other dogs and we always had to watch him.  He’d be fine with one dog, then another he’d want dead.  Once when he was very old and very ill and couldn’t walk I carried him into the vet’s office.  He hadn’t moved much all day but then he saw a Great Dane four times his size and tried to fly out of my arms to go after him, apparently forgetting he was too sick to walk.

Slim was sure he was a lap dog and no one could come into the house without Slim crawling into their lap.  He never met a human he didn’t like. He’d look into your eyes with a soulful stare and wag his tail so that his entire backside would move.

Slim and Nina would often work together on projects – she was the brain and he was the brawn.  Between the two of them they’d manage to steal food and other items that we could never figure out how they reached.  Once they caught a squirrel in the yard, and it was clearly the best day of their lives.

Like Nina and Snuffy, Slim lived with me for many years before he passed on.  He didn’t go as quickly as the other dogs, and his long slow decline was painful to watch. During Slim’s last year with us we got him a little brother, a puppy named Edison.  Even in his old age, Slim could outsmart the puppy and keep him in line.  Slim ruled the house until he passed on.  And now Edison is the last dog standing. At least for now.

Each of these dogs who came into my life had their own personalities and quirks, and they all brought joy, frustration, laughter and a lot of love.  And although it was horrible when each of them left my life, I’m glad I had the time with them that I did.  So Happy National Dog day to Ginga Haha, Snuffy, Nina, Bandy, Slim and Edison, and thanks for being my puppy.

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