TRUE STORY: "Clipper is in a fight again! Go out and get him!” My mother yelling at me early in the morning. 1954. A new subdivision in Ardsley, New York. She had let our Bull Terrier out. Clipper loved to fight. And I, a responsible eleven year old, had the emergency duty of rescuing chewed up doggies, those who had the misfortune of being in the neighborhood if Clipper was on the loose which was actually quite rare. Most times I took him for walks on a leash. But this did not prevent other dogs from wanting the traditional sniff or occasionally charging my white, tethered terrier. Twice this happened, once a Boxer, another time a Doberman. Clipper would wait patiently ‘til they got real close. Then BAM he would lightening fast flip these dogs on their backs and start chomping vigorously on their necks … under their snouts. Not a sight for the feint of heart. Of course I would be screaming at the top of my lungs. Fortunately these two times the dogs did break loose and flee. Throughout my teenage years I did my best to avoid these confrontations.

Clipper died while I was in basic training … U.S. Air Force, 1961. I came home ‘on leave’ and my sister asked if I noticed anything unusual. Not at first … then tears streamed down her cheeks … then mine. Severe liver damage. Clipper was gone.

During the ensuing years our family often recalled what a wonderful animal we had shared. He was family. His big brown eyes always said “I love you,” “pet me.” Images of his racing around the apartment when we came home still ‘visit’ me. And also my mother’s lap where Clipper sprawled contently. Such a friendly, ‘people’ dog. He ‘walks with me’ to this day.

And you?? Have you had a similar experience with a pet? Loving one that is. Perhaps every child should take responsibility for keeping an animal alive and content. Certainly caring for one rends the self-centered cloak of a teenager. A good thing. Appreciating the needs of other creatures. And hopefully this continues throughout adulthood. A reward of course is companionship. Many a senior citizen’s life would be barren without a cat or dog. Caressing fur, feeling a beating heart close and ‘communicating’ with a cherished pet … this can make all the difference in sustaining a meaningful life during the ‘twilight years’. Everyone needs to feel needed. Even by one’s own Clipper.

Oh, I forgot to mention how he got his name. Clipper had a large black patch surrounding his left eye. My mother imaginatively thought of a pirate’s clipper ship. Voila! Years later I was walking down a street in New York City and saw a picture of my dog on someone’s chest. I was dumbfounded! It was a Bull Terrier advertising beer. Nice to have my Clipper still around.

There IS, however, one problem with having a pet … for some: Vanity. Unfortunately there are those who invest much of their time and money into image … their own image. They want the world to know how unique they are. So they buy and maintain a pet that makes a statement. This is the world’s rarest and most expensive dog. “My breed is the best breed.” And so forth. A great reason for having a pet: So you can impress friends, strangers. Have you ever stopped a dog walker on the street and inquired what breed it is? Did you sense a little gloating? Maybe there is nothing wrong with this. We should all feel good about ourselves. Whatever it takes. And to be proud of your choice of an animal … so what? Well, the only problem with this is the ‘impress others’ part. This is a juvenile, self-conscious habit. Instead of loving your little ‘Max’ for himself you are using him as part of you life’s window dressing. You want people to like you for the ‘stuff’ you have … not for the person you are. And if your pet is presented to impress people, probably much in your life is meant to do the same. The saddest aspect of this practice: You cannot know if people really like you for you. Maybe they just fawn with feint praise feeling obliged to compliment you on your ‘precious’ possessions. Maybe you enjoy eliciting their envy and feeling ‘puffed up’ with your superior means to obtain the ‘good things’ in life.

Whatever motivates and satisfies you, it should not be dependent on what you want people to think of you. You must enjoy and even love the world’s creatures for their own sake. And when it comes to pets: They can be an extension of yourself, represent you in a way, “good choice,” but they are also beautiful creatures apart from you. You did not design them. You did not participate in their evolution. So do not even consider taking credit for them. Silly vanity can undermine one of life purest friendships: Your loving pet … like my Clipper.



©2007-2008 Edwin O'Shea and All or part of only one topic, including all definitions and essay, may be used without written permission. Please see full copyright notice on home page.