The Family Dog: What’s in a Name? (Or The Laundry Incident)


The origin of the name of the family dog has changed over time for my family. In my experience, I have encountered some dogs with terrific names. Wrigley, a yellow lab with a Chicago Cubs collar, was a regular in The Hotel. Clyde Frazier (I swear that was the dog’s name) came in every now and then. We saw Gus the Akita once in a while. And of course there was Jabba. Yep. You guessed it. Big old Saint Bernard. And of course, easily in my top ten names for dogs ever, Odin the German shepherd (Odin, if you don’t know, was the top dog among Norse deities. I mean, Odin was even higher than Thor among the mythological gods of the Scandinavian countries) Naming a dog is your chance to exercise your creativity so every time I see yet another dog named Sadie or Buddy or Bella, I weep at the lost opportunity.

I don’t know where Reggie got his name. As I have said, I think George (George was a girl) got her name from Bapa, my mom’s Dad. By the time we got to Gertie, my family had grasped the concept that you can name your dog anything you want so why not have fun with it? Gertie was named after Drew Barrymore’s character in E.T. I don’t remember precisely what brought Gertie down in the end, though a mishap involving my mom and a pillow certainly wouldn’t come as a shock. So by the time we got to Casey, my parents’ hadn’t honed their naming skills quite to my liking, but his nickname, Caser P. Casers, suited him well. The dog was as useless as a bag of broken hammers. But he meant well and he did well at easing my parents into their “Empty Nest” phase. Well, almost empty.

I don’t know quite how to explain Liz, but I’ll try. My sister Liz is 4 years younger than me and in her lifetime, she has been labeled many times. When she was a kid, the specialists said she had a “learning disability.” When she was pre-pubescent (I think), my Mom took her to the University of Iowa where, after a battery of tests, they labeled her again as Pervasive Developmental Disorder and they said they had never seen anyone quite like her. We knew all along that there was something very interesting about her, my mom even more so because she had been a special education teacher for a while before Liz was born. She was certainly high-functioning, what with being in the mainstream public school system until she was 13. I mean yeah, she met with a Resources Teacher all the time, but the concept of autism hadn’t fully developed a meaning yet, at least not in the public school system. It had however, gained a foothold in our family when the movie Rainman came out. It was eerie to see someone with a lot of the same mental quirks as my sister on the big screen. Liz had developed some very interesting habits I’ll share that will kind of paint a picture of how her mind works. 1) She learned how to say the alphabet backwards before she knew how to say it forwards. 2) She had the license plate number of every friend of the family, relative or distant associate memorized. 3) She knew the address, telephone number, and names of every friend, relative and their children of my family as well as the square footage of their house and the mileage on their car (those last two may be embellishments, but I honest don’t know if they are. No one ever asked her those things) Point is, she was definitely a strange bird.

Then a few years ago, Liz was re-re-branded as being on the Autism spectrum (Pervasive Developmental Disorder was actually taken off the list of mental disorders of some big-time psychology tome, right around the same time that obesity was named a disease. So you see, the clinical diagnosis of a lot of things doesn’t hold much truck with me). I heard about Autism Spectrum Disorder once on NPR and the guest seemed to have a viable explanation for it, so it’s the one I’ll go with. In social spheres, Liz does pretty well. She has a job in the food court at a local college and spends what it is becoming clear is a copious amount of hours on Facebook, and is generally a nice person, if short and curt. Liz has this amazing ability to get right to the heart of an issue and not so much tease it out as rip it from its roots. When asked recently how she lost some weight, Liz said matter-of-factly, “Well, I figured out the stuff that I was eating that made me fat and I stopped eating it.” Well played, Sis.

Liz was the only one home when Casey got hit by a car. Casey, in typical Beagle fashion, has the attention span of a gnat. Liz had been outside on the front steps rolling and banding newspapers for her paper route. I’m not sure if Casey was on a leash at the time and I’m not sure it would have mattered. He got distracted very easily and when he did, he was off and running. If memory serves, he apparently had a problem with the way some cars just looked and he tore out into the street to chase one down. The car hit him head on and, as it was described to me, he didn’t die instantly. Instead he kind of meandered back to our front lawn, looking quite confused I’m sure, and collapsed on the grass. That, however, is not the way Liz described it later to my parents.

“Y’know how the clothes look in the dryer when the dryer is running?”

Apparently, Casey, in his zeal, had struck the car head on, flopped into the wheel well and spun around a few times before being spit back onto the street. As I understand it (again, going by what my sister told us) he kind of stumbled to the curb looking quite dazed, and collapsed. Casey croaked by the time they got him to the emergency clinic. Poor little guy. What a helluva way to go.

I don’t quite remember how much time passed until they brought Abby into the house, but it couldn’t have been long. She wasn’t a bright animal. When my mom did one of the tests to check on the intelligence of a dog – throwing a blanket over the dog’s head and seeing how long it takes the dog to get out from under – Abby just lay there contentedly as if to say, “So, this is how my life is going to be from now on? OK.” She did do one smart thing in her life. One day when we were all out of the house, Abs got diarrhea. When we got home, we saw that she had left five or six piles of poop, but not all over the house. They were all in the bathroom. I guess she must have figured that if this is where her family goes to do this sort of thing, she would follow along.

For most of the years that I was living God-knows-where doing God-knows-what, Jumbo held down the fort of the empty nest. And to be fair, she didn’t start out as Jumbo.  Once again, I don’t how she got the name “Abby” but it didn’t last long. She started out as an adorable lab puppy, jet-black with a sweet little face that could have melted butter. But over the years, she started gaining weight. A lot of weight. And the thyroid condition necessitated the ingestion of medication that made her insatiably thirsty. Her cute little puppy bowl graduated to a regular water bowl for a medium-sized Labrador Retriever. By the time she had been on the meds for a month, she had graduated to a water trough that needed to be filled 3 times a day. She had evolved from the sweet little puppy that she started as into Flabicus Maximus. We called her Flabby. She also had eczema, a skin condition that made her scratch herself constantly. Considering it was the only spot she could always get to, she had scratched the small of her back completely bare and raw. By the time she was an old dog, she looked like a coffee table with a big white coaster in the middle.

3 thoughts on “The Family Dog: What’s in a Name? (Or The Laundry Incident)

    1. Wow, love your whole spectrum pal. I am fasinated with the Autism Spectrum as my brother’s oldest (19) was given the Asbergers syndrome. He is graduating College on a full scolarship a year early, holds down a full time job and is taking a class in Europe right now. I often wondered how or if he would have been treated differently if he wasn’t “labeled” I love the kid, great sense of humor.


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