His name is Luke, but I call him Hernia Dog.
When Luke was a puppy, he had a hernia that protruded from his underbelly like a fifth appendage. Liz and her friend, Kat, had visited a breeder outside of Bakersfield. While Kat got acquainted with her new energetic puppy, Liz noticed its calm, defective litter mate and asked about him. The breeder said euthanasia; nobody wants a hernia dog.
In the city, we had a gray miniature Schnauzer named Abby. After months of research, we chose her breed because she was hypo-allergenic and would not shed on our new furniture. We took her to the groomers regularly, and when they finished, she emulated our life, perfectly. We fed her scientific dog food and hired an obedience professional to train her in our home. She became the proverbial family dog, beloved, but she had one flaw. If the front door was left open, she bolted.
Abby lived the best years of her life at Cook Peak. Inside, the house was enormous to her. In the fenced backyard, there was a gigantic dog run behind the garage; a back patio the length of the house, a kennel area with an automated water spigot, plus, there was plenty of space around the cement pond to run laps. Compared to her tiny backyard in the city with only a flowerbed for relief, Abby lived in dog paradise. Her transformation from a city dog to mountain canine was inevitable. We were too busy to drive her to Bakersfield for pretty haircuts and gave her bad ones ourselves with sewing scissors. We changed her diet to dry food for fat dogs. But the best change occurred when Abby stopped bolting. We decided that rather than forcing her to live behind walls and fences, we’d open the front door and let her go. She always came back. Mostly she made her rounds and chased a squirrel or two. Her favorite pastime was sprawling on the grass in our front yard and dozing in the sunshine. When she was ready to come inside, she knocked.
I told Liz, absolutely not! We had already collected too many animals in a short amount of time, a common problem for newbies. Acquiring another dog, especially a time-consuming puppy, was ludicrous. Coldly, I told her to take the dog to the animal shelter. I tried my best to ignore its cuteness, how sorrowful his eyes looked and how proud I was that Liz had rescued him; but it wasn’t my problem. It was hers. The rule was no more pets. Period. David heard us arguing, and he intervened.
Liz named the puppy Luke after her black Labrador Beenie Baby and then left us for three months to work at a summer camp in the Sierras. While she was gone, the rest of us crate-trained, potty-trained, fixed a hernia and began raising one of the best, unexpected dogs a family could ever wish for. We didn’t care that his pedigree was a mix somewhere between a Labrador and shepherd, or that he shed all over Cook Peak or that drooled when we ate in front of him. He was in tune with our emotions and knew when we needed his company. He was cuddly and loveable. He was our protector. If a stranger came to the front door, Hernia Dog was frightening. At night if the hair on his back stood straight, we knew the bear outside. Hernia Dog was the perfect mountain dog, but he had one flaw. If the front door was left open, he bolted and ran until his feet bloodied.
Abby lived a long and happy life at Cook Peak. Her death closed a chapter in our lives that had passed too quickly. When she joined our family as a puppy, the girls were in elementary school. When she died, they were women.
Hernia Dog is an older dog, now. You can tell by the graying around his muzzle. His teeth are yellow, some are gone, and his eyes are cloudy. He fits right in. He is the famous Facebook dog of Cook Peak, and he generously fills our empty nest.
Nobody wants a hernia dog.