Mar. 25, 2017

Amber & AJ - BFF's

When my daughter, Amber, was a baby, we bought a black Chow-Chow puppy that she could grow up with. My father, having heard horror stories about the breed threw a fit but did so on deaf ears. We named her Amber’s Joy and called her AJ.

It turns out my father had good reason to fear the dog. Whenever he came to the house to visit, AJ would all but attack him and chew him up, especially if he came near Amber. She would lay in front of my daughter, protectively so, and watch every move my dad made while in the house.

As Amber grew and learned to walk, it was the dog who taught her. Amber would pull herself into a standing position by grabbing AJ’s thick fur and pull. AJ would stand perfectly still until Amber balanced herself and then step-by-step, they walked together.

Even older still, when it came time to watch Lassie or Mary Poppins (my daughter’s two favorite VCR tapes), AJ would sit next to Amber’s little elephant chair. Of course, during her afternoon snack, she always shared with her puppy.

I had to quit offering bananas and ice cream bars though when I realized Amber would take a bit, hold it out for AJ to take a bite, then herself again. It would go back and forth like that until it was gone. I would cringe that my toddler was eating after the dog! “What are you doing?” I’d asked.

“I’m sharing,” she’d answer and then offer another bite.

If I put anything in a bowl, she’d give AJ spoonfuls at a time. I found popcorn to be the best snack. Amber could toss down a few pieces and the dog would readily get it. That was AJ’s favorite snack anyway, popcorn.

Before a fenced in yard, Amber had imaginary boundaries. Apparently AJ understood them because when Amber would cross those lines, the dog would go pure nuts getting my attention. Even after we got a fenced in yard and Amber tried to scale the fence.

I heard radical barking one afternoon and then it would stop; then start again. I went to the back door to look and saw my daughter trying to climb the fence to escape. AJ was grabbing her britches and pulling her back down, let go, bark a few times and then grab her again.

I opened the back door to Amber swatting behind her at AJ’s nose saying, “Stop it AJ!”

“What do you think you’re doing, Missy?” I said to her amazement. It’s funny that even at age five she didn’t realize sound traveled.

“Nothing,” she says climbing back down the fence and standing next to her dog.

“I think you need to come inside for a while.” I held the door open for her to come back into the house.

Amber turned to AJ and scolded, “You’re a big tattle-tale!” Maybe she did figure it out about sound after all.

Lord knows if Reese and I fought, AJ would go hide in Amber’s room with her. The general rule was if Mom and Dad were having a temper-tantrum style disagreement, the children were to go to their rooms in order to keep them out of the line of fire. AJ always trotted right behind Amber each time.

Just as protective as AJ was over Amber in her infancy, she was the same over my son, Reese, when he was born. She’d lay at his feet and guard him with her life. Of course, by the time my son was born, I had ended all communication with my father so AJ was more relaxed with my son.

When AJ died, at the age of 16, she died in my arms. We had spent the better part of two days going back and forth to the vets. Dr. Smith tried in vain asking us to let him put her down and we refused. The last several days, I was having to spoon-feed her baby food because she didn’t want to eat. Reese Sr. was having to carry her outside to potty since she could no longer walk. The last time he did, I stood at the door and cried.

“I’m going to call Dr. Smith,” I said to my husband as he came back inside.

I turned to go back to my desk. As I started dialing the vet’s number, AJ barked loudly. It was the strangest bark; one I’d never before heard her make. I hung up, ran outside, and picked her head up. She looked up at me and licked my hand and then she was gone. Just like that.

AJ’s death affected us all. She was a good dog, very smart, very loving. Through her we learned that it is not the breed that makes a dog mean, it’s the owner.