82: Falling for You

82: Falling for You

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

Falling for You

Fun fact: The first guide dog organization in the United States, The Seeing Eye, was opened in 1929.

My family had been getting fluffy puppies every year — boundless energy in the form of a German Shepherd, a Golden Retriever, or a Lab — to train them as Seeing Eye dogs. Seven weeks old and curious, each puppy liked to snuffle into the crook of my arm and fall asleep as I watched TV and did my homework. Little did they know they would be evaluated later for a very grown-up responsibility.

We started doing this while I was in middle school, and by the time I was in college, we were on our sixth puppy. “His name is Kramer,” Dad said, holding the Golden Retriever up to the camera so I could see him via Skype from my study abroad in London.

All semester, I would Skype my parents and siblings, and Kramer would be lifted to the camera, licking it with a long pink tongue. Later, he’d jump on a desk or an iPad. I’d say hello, and he’d bark. “He’s sweet,” I’d say, never having touched the dog.

“He’ll never pass,” my brother said.

The Seeing Eye is an exceptional organization, the oldest guide agency in the United States. We had each puppy for about a year — a foster situation. We were in charge of teaching it basic commands: sit, rest and come. The Seeing Eye did the hard stuff — and the hard stuff included deciding which dogs would continue in the program. We’d only had two out of five dogs pass up to that point, which was about average.

“Why won’t he pass?” I asked.

My brother smiled fondly at Kramer, tilting the camera so I could see him resting his head, with his big droopy jowls, on my brother’s lap. “He’s a lover,” my brother said. “Not a fighter.”

When I came home for Christmas, I met the famous Kramer. He was sweet, loving to cuddle on the floor to warm us up after being out in the snow. I kissed him goodbye more than I kissed my family. After all, I’d be seeing my siblings and parents again, but I had another nine months abroad and Kramer would go back to The Seeing Eye before I got home.

Or so I thought.

In August, my brother picked me up at the airport, and it was sweltering. “I have a surprise,” he’d written in an e-mail just before I boarded the plane out of London. “Don’t worry; it’s a good one.”

I’d spent the flight trying to think of what my brother could possibly tell me. Had he proposed to his girlfriend, the one he’d been dating for a year? But they were only eighteen, and going to different colleges. Did he get us tickets to a New York Giants game? Sign up for the New York Marathon? Cure cancer?

Kramer greeted me in the car, draped across the back seat where my brother shoved my luggage. I squealed at the sight of him. “He failed?”

“I drove all the way up to The Seeing Eye to get him.” My brother rubbed Kramer’s ears and pressed his forehead against the dog’s big, blocky face. They both heaved big sighs of contentment. “Now he’s all mine. He’s my mascot. Just a warning, though,” he pointed at me, emphasizing his point in the airport parking lot, “he’s a lover, not a fighter.”

“You’ve told me that before.”

“You’ll see what I mean.”

We drove to our house, a solid two-story in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, where another surprise awaited: a party in full swing. My uncle got up to pat me on the back, and Kramer brushed up beside me as my uncle squeezed and squeezed.

Then I got lifted off the ground. “Uncle John!” I yelled. “Put me down!” I screamed, and everyone laughed even as my uncle dragged me to the pool.

No one moved to help me except for Kramer.

Kramer jumped up and knocked Uncle John away from me. My uncle nearly fell in the pool, and I just stood there, panting, as Kramer licked my hand.

“Good boy,” I murmured. Everyone at the party was laughing — everyone except me, my uncle, and Kramer.

That was just the beginning of Kramer showing his “lover” instincts. He would stand over toddlers if they fell down while trying to walk, protecting them until they could get back up again. He’d go from room to room, making sure everyone was safe and accounted for. He’d nudge the new Seeing Eye puppy toward the food bowl first, making sure he had enough to eat before he would eat himself. And he abhorred violence in all forms. Play-fighting, tickling, even raised voices, would make him jump in between whoever was quarreling as if he could bodily stop the madness.

This all culminated in an event that happened right before I left for my sophomore year of college. I’d taken Kramer with me to meet my friends for a picnic.

I was really meeting Lucy, but she’d insisted on bringing her boyfriend, a piece of work I’d never approved of whom we will call Rodney. Rodney was the type of person who tried to control who Lucy talked to and what she wore. He’d told her she shouldn’t apply to any college except the one he was going to, and he threatened to kill himself until she complied. He’s the type of guy who kicks dogs, and that’s all you need to know about him.

We’d set up the picnic on a bank next to a river. Every once in a while, someone would float past in a tube and we’d wave, but mostly it was the four of us: me, Lucy, Rodney, and Kramer. We talked about schoolwork and movies. I didn’t say anything about the deep bruises under Lucy’s eyes. I’d said it so many times, I was afraid she would stop seeing me for good.

But this was a nice day. Good weather, and Lucy was being funny, and Rodney was being civil. That’s when I realized I’d forgotten the tray of brownies in the back of my car.

“Go get them,” Lucy said, waving me away. “I’ll watch Kramer.”

“It’ll be tough,” Rodney quipped. Kramer hadn’t moved for an hour.

The car was only a three-minute walk back through some trees, and those brownies were so good, warm and moist. “I’ll be right back,” I promised.

Lucy says the fight started because Rodney told her she shouldn’t eat brownies because she was getting too fat. Rodney said it started when Lucy pushed against him, and his foot fell in the water. The bottom line is that a fight did start, and it was a loud one.

I was walking through the trees when I heard it — Lucy pleading and screaming. I dropped the brownies and ran, heart pounding.

When I got back to them, Kramer was standing on Rodney’s shoulders and hips, teeth bared, while Lucy sobbed. There was a red spot on her cheek that would later turn into a bruise.

“Get this dog off of me!” Rodney yelled. Kramer growled again.

I went over to Lucy and folded her into a hug. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Rodney,” I said, patting my thigh in a gesture that Kramer knew meant “come.” He did, trotting over and plopping down at my feet, keeping his eyes on Rodney. “Everyone knows Kramer’s a lover, not a fighter.”

~Katie Avagliano

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