Our next-door neighbor in Butler, NJ had a cute little black and white terrier. She was mostly black, but had splashes of white on her chest and feet. Her name was Pepper. When Pepper got pregnant, I was thrilled when my parents actually said we could have one of the puppies.
We chose a blonde-haired pup and named him Brandy after the popular 1970s song of the same name. I taught Brandy tricks like to wait before eating his food and not to take food from strangers. My parents didn’t agree with this, accusing me of being mean to Brandy. I wasn’t being mean at all. Brandy loved doing tricks and I was very kind. I explained that teaching him not to take food from strangers could also protect him if someone offered him a treat that would make him sick.
The real issue was that Brandy loved me and obeyed me. We were best friends and went everywhere together. When Brandy was still a pup, my mother tried to get him to like her best. She’d take Brandy everywhere, commenting each time he squatted to urinate that he wasn’t old enough to lift his leg.
I took a closer look at Brandy and realized with my direct twelve-year-old logic that was unattached to my mother’s preferences, that Brandy wasn’t a boy. I did have the foresight not to try to disillusion my mother, however, regarding Brandy’s gender. I waited and sure enough, one day as we were walking Brandy, she squatted to pee and a male dog jumped on her.
“What’s happening?” my mother cried. “He can’t help it that he isn’t old enough to lift his leg yet.”
“Oh, that’s not a he,” the other dog’s owner explained as he quickly pulled his dog away from ours.
I quietly let that sink in, wondering if my mother’s fondness of Brandy would fade once she accepted the fact that Brandy wasn’t a male dog. I never did figure out what the deal was with my mother regarding the male gender, but her interest always peaked when she thought an animal was male. All her favorite movie stars were men, too. I was supposed to be her first boy as well. Watching her respond to Brandy’s gender helped me to take her disdain of me a little less personally.
As you can guess, after that, she had no further interest in Brandy. Before my mother knew Brandy was female, she’d buy the best brands of dog food. Afterward, it was Alpo. This was during the time when Lorne Green was doing commercials for Alpo canned dog food and he’d call to his dogs, “Alpo time!” and they’d come running.
Well, Brandy did not have the same opinion of Alpo as Lorne Green’s dogs. She hated it. The smell of it would make her sneeze and kick back at the food dish as if she was covering her waste with a bit of earth.
So since my mother now knew that Brandy was female, she took great pleasure in buying nothing but Alpo for her and in calling out gleefully, “Brandy! Alpo time!”
It got to the place where every time Brandy heard my mother calling out, she’d hide under a chair or slip outside and sneak beneath a forsythia bush.
I still loved Brandy, of course. I taught her more and more tricks. She loved sitting up for dog biscuits, rolling over and fetching sticks. She could count by barking if I held up fingers or asked questions like, “How many paws do you have?”
She was a smart, bright little dog that kept me company through my teenage years. When it was time for me to leave for college after I graduated from high school, I couldn’t take Brandy with me. I worried about her. Like my parakeet, Birdie, no on but me cared for Brandy. I said goodbye to her before I left, hoping that if I came home to visit, she would still be there.
When I visited home for Thanksgiving, I looked for Brandy. She was gone. I asked my mother what had happened, but she didn’t know.
I fought down anger and frustration that she couldn’t remember what had happened to a creature that had been a member of our family for so many years. I found out later that after I left, someone saw Brandy trotting down the street.
I realized then that Brandy had stayed so long with a family that didn’t appreciate her, just for me. As I pictured her trotting down Main Street, I hoped she’d found a good home with a family who would love and appreciate her.