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For the school year of 2003 my wife, Val, commuted from Austin to Battle Mountain. It was 92 miles one way, so when big winter storms hit she’d stay overnight with one of her teacher friends up there, and because of that she came home one evening with what at first glance was a little ball of white and brown fluff, which, when lowered to the floor, glided randomly around apparently under its own power.

Come to find out her teacher friend also raised a breed of small dogs called shih-tzu (pronounced cheet-zoo) which, Val informed me, was what was sweeping the kitchen linoleum under my watchful gaze at that very moment.

“You mean that’s a dog?” I asked, as the thing sailed off into the hallway.

“Yes,” she said, “a small dog. A small puppy, really.”

“Ahh.” I said, drawing it out like Confucius might in one of his manifestly wise moments.

And just like that we had us another dog. I don’t know why I was surprised, as sudden pet acquisition wasn’t a totally unknown concept for us; two cute little girl kittens we’d once adopted furnished us with eleven more cute little kittens six months later. Fully aware that 13 cats can’t possibly bring good luck, we set out to find homes for them. Unfortunately, we ran out of relatives long before we ran out of cats, and still had six of them by the time Scruffy arrived.

Oh, and we also had another dog which officially belonged to our daughter, a big red and white border collie named Summer. She was four times the size of any border collie I’d ever seen—about the size of a German Shepard—and was graceful like a duck on roller skates. It wasn’t uncommon to see her fall off the porch.

These were our everyday pets; Val, being a creative school teacher, also kept more exotic-type pets in her classroom which she brought home to care for every summer. Rotating through our house, over the course of several years, were turtles and rabbits and hedgehogs and sugar gliders and prairie dogs and hamsters and guinea pigs and even white mice. Every once in a great while one of these critters would escape their cage, upsetting us permanent residents to the point where a Chinese fire drill would be soothing in comparison. I was once awoken in the middle of the night by a sugar glider scrambling up my back, which I don’t believe requires any further explanation.

So Scruffy, of course, fit right in, once we got him trimmed up so you could tell which end went forward. Scruffy idolized Summer, probably because she was so comparatively big, but Summer didn’t like Scruffy at all, mainly because he was so small. He could hop up into our laps, something Summer longed for but couldn’t because of her size. The best she could do was seat herself next to our feet and rest her head on our knees, gazing up at us mournfully while shooting an occasional smoldering glance at the intruding puppy.

Summer tried very hard to get rid of Scruffy for the first few months. On my weekly dump runs I’d stop out in the desert and let the dogs—now plural—run. The first time, Summer took off with Scruffy racing behind to keep up, and I thought how neat it was that they were off to go play. When Summer returned a little later, by herself and with a big grin on her face, I got a little concerned and climbed up on my pickup armed with binoculars. Luckily the snow had melted by then, and when I caught a little flash of white between the sagebrush I ran out and retrieved our very wide-eyed little orphan. I thought it was accidental, but the next trip I stood on the tailgate and watched Summer run straight as a string away from the truck with Scruffy slowly losing ground behind her. When she got a considerable distance ahead she turned hard right and circled back towards the truck, tripping over sagebrush now and then, while Scruffy plunged on straight ahead and then slowed and started running back and forth, obviously hopelessly lost, walled off by brush much taller than he was. Summer had actually ditched him. You just had to smile.

Somehow, after that rocky start they eventually became friends and then best buddies and then inseparable.

Many years later we moved from the Great Basin Desert to the Mojave Desert, and we took with us both dogs, five cats, and two sugar gliders. In the way of pets everywhere they are all gone now, but we are grateful for the uncountable wondrous and memorable moments they gave us.

It never fails to amaze me how casually we adopt furry little members into our family, with nary a thought for the future responsibilities it entails. On the other hand, there’s not a hint of how much joy these little guys will bring either, so on the whole we always come out way ahead.

And oh yeah; we have the neatest little cat now…

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