Tuesday, April 29, 1997
Friendship half-price by the pound

The Cincinnati Enquirer

It was a moment and a dog I'll never forget.

Just two days earlier, the boy in the bed had broken his neck. A diving accident. His parents, pale and a little weepy, said their son could not move, except for his eyes. He was trussed up in medical hardware, and I was careful not to bump his bed.

Just as carefully, the dog pulled herself up and laid next to him on the stiff hospital sheets. One of those mongrels with a kind face and generously assorted ancestry, she was just a little bigger than medium. Black with brown eyebrows.

The dog pushed her nose under the boy's left hand, which was resting, palm down, at his side. Then she bobbed her head slowly until the boy's limp hand rested firmly on her head. The boy grinned, watching his hand doing the first normal thing it had done in 48 hours.

And the dog wagged her tail. She likes her work.

This dog came from the pound.

So did Keeper, another therapy dog, who makes regular rounds at Hospice of Cincinnati. Benji, the movie star, was picked up at an animal shelter, as was Sandy, the doggy lead in the current Broadway incarnation of Annie. I thought you'd like to know in case you're dogless and thinking of getting one.

This weekend is the annual Pet Adoptathon, a chance to find a pet at a bargain price from nearly a thousand animal shelters and veterinary clinics all over the world. No matter how much you pay, you get a lot for your money.

A recent survey by the American Animal Hospital Association says 48 percent of female pet owners in this country rely more on their pet than a spouse or child for affection.

The same study says 70 percent of dog owners expect their pet to come to their rescue, compared with 31 percent of cat owners. The big surprise here is 30 percent of the dog owners did not know their dogs would lay down their lives for their human friends and that 31 percent of cat owners are deluding themselves.

Of course, animal lovers are not always sane where their pets are concerned. For instance, 27 percent of pet owners have had their pet's photograph taken by a professional photographer with its family, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

That seems a little sick to me.

Our dog doesn't believe in Santa or the Easter Bunny, so we don't make her pose with them. Anymore.

We don't make our cat do anything at all. I am not permissive, just realistic about what you can expect from one: fur, claws, grace and attitude. They will not pull Timmy out of the well. For bravery and devotion, you need a dog.

Clearance sale

You can shop for one, half-price, this weekend at four area shelters: the Boone County Animal Shelter in Burlington; the Hamilton County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Northside; the Progressive Animal Welfare Society in Middletown; and the Jeannette Marie Stacy Animal Shelter in Lebanon.

Times vary, so call ahead. Cost is $25 for a cat and $30 for a dog, plus $9.75 for a license. Experts will be there to answer questions about care and training, and the Iams Co. will give you enough food to get started.

This sounds very responsible - and very complicated. As a lifelong amateur dog owner, I think I'm qualified to tell you the simple truth.

A dog, even a little one you send out to be clipped and manicured, is messy and hairy. They get sick, usually in the middle of the foyer right before company arrives. You can buy them the best cedar doggy bed in the world, but they prefer sleeping in yours. They chew things and bark.

They leave noseprints on windows in your house and car. It is part of their job. They desperately need walking when it's raining and when you'd rather sleep late.

If you have been gone and they are hungry, they will ask to be petted before they ask to be fed. They will do anything for you if you're smart enough to let them know what you want. They will do this for an ''attaboy.'' They'll make you feel important and lovable.

You'll probably outlive your dog, and when it dies, someone will comfort you by saying that it was, after all, only a dog.

Anybody who says that never had one.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio, and as a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.