A Lifetime With Man’s Best Friend

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - April 06, 2005
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“Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am!”

So reads the most insightful of bumper stickers.

Yes, if I were truly worthy of the love and loyalty, trust and devotion with which the dogs in my life have looked at me, I’d have to be something other worldly.

Dogs have been a huge part of my life, from my first birthday — I still have the snapshot of ol’ Shep (a shepherd, of course) at my side sharing my birthday cake — to our present yellow Lab-ish siblings, Rufus and Lucy.

Then at age 10 I fell for that old Christmas con job so many kids get once in their life: “Well, that’s all the presents, Jerry. Go get that box on the porch to put all the wrapping paper and ribbon in.” And sure enough in that box was a Christmas cocker spaniel puppy we named Ribbons. She was a natural hunter, especially at night in the old tank house. With pellet gun at the ready and Ribbons’ cropped tail vibrating, I’d switch on the light and pick off the rats scurrying across the rafters. Ribbie would finish ’em off.

Then came Prince, a registered Shetland sheep dog which is supposed to look like a miniature collie, but Prince was as big as Lassie so he was “available” cheap at the animal shelter.

Our neighbors raised giant schnauzers for puppies and show, so when they traveled I cleaned kennels, fed and groomed the dogs, and ultimately learned how to handle them in the show ring. In that environment I learned that, as often as not, people really do look and act like their dogs!

As a fraternity pledge at UCLA, it was my job to look after the frat house mascot, a drooling English bulldog named Sir John Bourbon of Gayley (Gayley was our street name). At house parties, the girls would think Sir John was “just so cute!” until he hugged their leg and slobbered on their skirt. Of course, I always got the blame.


During my early family days in the Navy, we held off on a dog ’til just before I deployed to Vietnam. We played the ol’ Christmas trick on the kids, and in the box they found a basset hound puppy they promptly named Tippy. I wouldn’t say he really replaced me in my absence, but upon my return it was weeks before I felt as much a part of the family as he obviously did. Tippy died of a heart attack while laboring up a hill in California.

Replacing Tippy was a mongrel terrier pup out of Queenie aboard a smelly fishing boat at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, one of several in a litter born on the poop deck of the Dixie Belle. The puppy was handed up to us by old Cap’n William May, who said with quivering voice, “first time this little critter ever been touched by human hands!” We named him Boats and brought him to Hawaii. Like any good bosun’s mate he became very independent, and was last seen hobnobbing with a pack of wild dogs in the kiawe scrub of Barber’s Point.

Buddy, a little yellow terrier mix, actually came from a pet store (how mundane!). A neighborhood character, he could smile on command by drawing his upper lip back in a snarl that we called a smile. Buddy was always invited in by the base commander’s wife for her “ladies coffees.” He had his own name tag, “Buddy Coffee.” He finally got blindsided by a car while focused on a fleeing mongoose across the road. His burial in the corner of the yard attracted scores of admirers.

Then in Maili there was Lyle, a scrappy little fox terrier named after the late Lyle Alzedo of the Oakland Raiders. Then came Lacy, Maili, Jasmine and finally from Jasmine, Lacy’s great-grandkids, Rufus and Lucy. Rufus and, Lucy are a gentle, loving pair, and by now we’ve decided all dogs should come in pairs. They groom one another. They have gentle “face fights.” They chase and wrestle one another. They stretch “bow” to us each morning, and sleep in when we sleep in.

I’ve often said I can’t even imagine my life without my children, but — no offense, kids — I’d have to say the same about my dogs.

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