My Irene: a Toad Hollow Tale
When she appeared unannounced at our back door one chilly December morning, my brother, Gary, and I wanted her to stay. My best dog-friend Patsy had died in an accidental encounter with a mowing machine the previous summer, and I had recovered enough from her loss to consider having another dog.
Father went out of the house for a look, and when he came back in he asked if we’d like to keep her.
Although mother didn’t respond, Gary and I, jumping up and down with joy, chorused: “Yes, yes please!”
Father then said with a twinkle in his eyes and a slight smile: “I think her name should be Irene. She looks like an Irene to me,” and laughed.
Irene joined the family. She was a small, brown spotted dog with a multi-cultural ancestry and a lop-sided walk.
When we opened the door, she meandered into the kitchen and bit my brother on the leg. It wasn’t a vicious bite, mind you, more like a taste. Gary yelped and started to cry, more from surprise than pain.
The nip didn’t draw blood, and mother admonished Gary: “Stop crying like a baby. Eat your breakfast. It doesn’t hurt!”
Irene tried to bite everyone and everything. Like a foodie searching for the perfect duck confit, she was seeking the perfect taste of man and beast. Although she learned not to bite my father, mother or me, she routinely sampled with our tacit encouragement the salesmen coming to our door. The neighbors apprehensive that she might be vicious stayed in their cars while talking to father. When no one was around, I would sometimes let Irene nip my brother as a treat for her good behavior. Every good dog deserves a nibble now and then. Since her nips didn’t hurt, Gary soon learned to appreciate her attention and rewarded her with laughter and pats.
Somewhere in her ancestral lineage, Irene must have shared some collie genes because she spent a lot of time biting at the heels of the cows and sheep and trying to move them around the feedlots in an orderly fashion. She was so small the cows’ kicks passed over her head. She was much too agile for the sheep to butt her. Over time the cows and sheep accepted her eccentricities without bothering to retaliate. Although she worked diligently for a while trying to herd the chickens, she finally gave up the task to the hens’ and rooster’s relief. Kittens learned to enjoy being carried around and gently chewed on by Irene, their mothers appreciating this form of baby-sitting.
Irene proved to be my great companion. Her advice on most matters was every bit as good as the late Patsy’s. On really cold winter nights Irene slept with the sheep, their coats providing her the wool blanket she needed to keep warm.
For those meeting her for the first time, my Irene was the model for the expression often used in Toad Hollow where we lived to describe both animals and humans: “She’s a real, mean bitch!”
My father’s oldest sister was named Irene. Over the years Aunt Irene mellowed out, too. Both Irenes were my favorites.