Shelly with her pup. (Photo: Shelly Rabuse)
“I’m sure I have eaten dog.”
That’s what my mother, the World War II survivor, told me one day. My jaw dropped, so she quickly clarified by saying, “Well, when you got meat on the black market, you didn’t ask.”
Needless to say, my parents, who were both young Germans growing up in frequently bombed Cologne in 1942 and didn’t have the luxury of pets. But as a typical American middle-class kid in suburbia, I wanted one — badly.
I grew up in Ambler, PA in a split-level-filled neighbrhood as, essentially, an only child; my brother was 13 years older and out of the house by the time I was six. There were lots of other kids on the block who had a dog and I yearned for a fuzzy friend who would sleep on my bed and be my best friend and companion.
My parents weren’t keen on the idea of a pet, however. It wasn’t a necessity and possibly created more problems. For a short time, my brother had a hamster and my mother would lament “the stink” — a larger pet? Well, forget it.. My father simply didn’t have an affinity for dogs, I assumed because at a young age he was literally dodging bullets in a war torn country, and never got to really be a kid. He just didn’t know how to relate.
Then one summer while visiting family friends in Boca Raton, Florida, fate intervened.
The friends’ teenage daughter had just come back from Fort Lauderdale where there had been a tropical storm, and she had found a wet, shivering puppy pacing along a seawall, apparently abandoned. She didn’t have the heart to leave the puppy, so she brought it home with her and gave her the name Tasha.
Her parents were NOT happy with her discovery and made it very clear that their white carpeted home was not going to be seeing paw prints any time soon. The dog had to go. I spent a lot of time with Tasha during our stay, and fell in love with her cute brown fuzzy face.
I wanted this dog. I don’t think I ever begged harder for anything in my life — I worked my parents with every angle I could conjur, from home security to having a playmate. Finally, our hosts offered to pay for Tasha’s flight back to Pennsylvania if we would take her off of their hands — and my parents agreed.
The morning my volatile father stepped barefoot into a still-warm turd, I thought my heart would stop.
We loaded one small cardboard box containing one small dachshund/terrier mix under my plane seat, and when we arrived home I finally had my first “real” pet. I stayed true to my promises and walked and fed Tasha every day. I had a small wagon in which I pulled her around the block in summer, and in the winter she got rides on my sled. The other pet-less kids in the neighborhood thought Tasha was cool, and I finally had the dog I had always dreamed about.
Of course, there were downsides too. I didn’t ALWAYS remember to walk Tasha, so my mother’s pristine oriental rug suffered a few urine-induced pink spots where it used to be red. And the morning my volatile father stepped barefoot into a still-warm turd, I thought my heart would stop. But despite the ruined rug, gross discoveries and sometimes needless barking, Tasha became an integral part of our family, and to my amazement, my parents accepted her.
As I became a teenager, my interest in boys and tennis started to replace my focus on Tasha. My grandmother had come to live with us, so she took over the walking routine. She enjoyed it because she could chat with the neighbors on her rounds.
But oddly enough, Tasha had really become my mother’s dog. Her schedule kept her home most of the day, and Tasha followed her from room to room as she did housework, rarely leaving her side.
My mom truly found Tasha to be delightful. I don’t know if it was because she never knew the unconditional love of a pet when she was growing up but I know having Tasha enriched both of our lives in a very special way.
Tasha died when I was 16. I was pretty sad about it, but my mom wept for days. I hadn’t even realized what a strong bond they had formed until that moment. Not having Tasha there to trail along during her chores was a lonely experience for my mom, and it amazed me how much that dog came to mean to her when I was the one who had fought so hard to bring her home.
I think, deep down, my mom was also happy she finally had her first pet too.