My grandpa celebrated his birthday last week. He and my nana introduced me to the first pet who stole my heart — their dog, Mickey. My grandparents loved Mickey, and through their love and care for him, gave me some of my first lessons about pets.
Growing up, I spent a week almost every summer with my nana and grandpa. They lived outside Indianapolis. I loved having a week of being an “only” child instead of the youngest of three back home in Cleveland, OH. If I wanted to play with other kids, two of my aunts lived in the same town and had kids my age so I got to have plenty of cousin time during those trips. We would go shopping and swimming. We would play tons of games. My grandpa taught me to make pea salad (the first time I can remember liking peas), sweet sun tea and the best grilled cheese sandwiches. He and my Nana also taught me how to treat a dog respectfully and lovingly.
They had an adorable white mixed-breed dog named Mickey. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when they brought Mickey home. I do remember they were strict on their rules regarding how he was to be treated.
Whenever I walked in for the start of my visit, I was to hold out my hand to Mickey and be calm until he finished sniffing me. He would remember me by my smell, I was told. Mickey was not to be encouraged onto the table, no matter how much I wanted him there. If Mickey went to his “quiet spot” I was not to follow him, he deserved privacy as much as I did.
I remember feeling excited when Grandpa would let me hold Mickey’s leash on walks with him. For Mickey’s safety I needed to hold onto his leash carefully. Everyone in the neighborhood seemed to know my grandpa because of Mickey. Kids and their parents would come down to the sidewalk just to pet and chat. If my grandpa wasn’t with me, as I got older, neighbors would know I must be one of his grandkids because of Mickey.
I distinctly remember being amazed when my nana would tell Mickey to stop barking (he loved to bark at people he saw through their front window). He’d look at her, see the raised eyebrow, and he’d settle down. Somehow my nana could talk to dogs! To eight-year-old me, this was a super power. I was equally amazed when I realized that Mickey would sit when I told him! It wasn’t just something my nana and grandpa could do, I somehow had this skill — but only in that small way. I think I believed that the rest of canine communication would come as I grew up.
I made mistakes. I bribed Mickey through obstacle courses with potato chips. I purposefully snuck food under the table to him. I didn’t understand why Mickey didn’t always want to cuddle and I’m sure I pouted more about that than I ought to have. But he taught me a lot and my grandparents never let me make any really serious mistakes.
Mickey was why I fell in love with pets. I’ve known other great animals of many different species in my life, but Mickey and the lessons my grandparents taught me through him, are a big part of I’m dedicated to helping animals. Mickey passed away when I was in college, after many years of cuddles, cousins of all ages and daily walks with my grandpa. I still have a framed picture of him, sitting on his favorite hassock in their living room. His black eyes are intelligent and his whole body language is relaxed because he knew he had a good life.
I’ve heard it said that we should live as though we were the people our pets believe us to be. Mickey may have been my grandparents’ pet, but I like to think that I’m living as the person he believed I’d be — if slightly more stingy with potato chips for pets now.