Our Pets

The columnist takes a moment in these crazy times to reflect on our constant companions.

By Ed Butts, PE, CPI

Many crises have transpired in our lives during the past six months. We’ve had the coronavirus, the economy has tanked, and Victor even turned over his company to Adam (that last one is for my wife, the original The Young and the Restless devotee).

Figure 1. “Yuri”

Even with all these problems, the real debate has continued to rage on. No, I’m not talking about Republicans vs. Democrats or which direction toilet paper should hang in bathrooms. What I want to discuss is what makes a better pet—dogs or cats?

I readily admit no matter which direction I go, I know there will always be a group of you that disagrees with me, so please take this in the light-hearted vein I intended when I put this together. I think we all need this, so please no death threats.

Dogs vs. Cats

I grew up with dogs, loved the dogs I had as a kid, and never regretted anything except for perhaps the times my mother or father made me clean up one of their messes.

Dogs were the faithful companions always awaiting my return from school. Their rapidly wagging tails and overactive enthusiasm they displayed whenever they caught a glimpse of me often made a terrible day bearable, a bad day good, and a good day better.

I had three primary dogs during my childhood into adulthood. Each was a mixed breed of a Norwegian Elkhound and German Shepherd, and a son of the preceding dog.

“King”

First, there was King, who was 5 or 6 years old when we got him. I don’t remember much about him as I was young when my father brought him home, but I do recall him being loyal to my father, having a loud bark, and being an excellent watchdog.

King was aptly named. He was always milling around the office and shop, seemingly watching for any trespassers, ready to show them out the driveway if he felt they didn’t belong.

He was unfortunately around only long enough to sire his son a few years later. His son was appropriately name Prince.

“Prince”

Prince was the dog I had through my most formative years of grade school and into junior high school. The memory of Prince is burned into my brain forever.

Figure 2. “Inverted Yuri”

Since we often remember our early years with fondness and a favorable recollection, it’s no wonder Prince holds a special place in my heart. He was the one that had to faithfully listen as I related the stories of how Sally turned me down for a date, an argument with my sister, or how I drove the International pickup into the carport my first time driving.

Funny how he never judged me and just seemed to listen. I could swear he knew what I was saying at times, and if he could have, would have responded with something like, “That’s OK, kid, you’ll have better days.”

Prince was the first dog I went on adventure with. We had a few acres of open field along with a small creek next to our combined home/shop/yard that was used for my father’s well drilling firm, and Prince and I took advantage of it all. We went hunting for possums, squirrels, and raccoons, all the while imagining we were hunting down tigers, lions, and bears, oh my! It was a dog-to-boy, Lassie-to-Timmy allegiance that lasted a year or two.

However, this was also a time of great upheaval in my family. My parents divorced around my 10th birthday. I grew up a lot in those next few years. I don’t think I was really ever a kid after that. By this time, which was the early 1970s, much had changed in our lives.

Prince had sired a son we called—what else—Duke, but he also began to develop problems with his hind legs from being hit by a car on the busy highway that fronted our place. We eventually had to put Prince down because he was in visible pain. To this day, that is a memory I try to never recall.

“Duke”

My father remarried after another year or so and we moved away from the only Adventureland I had known. Fortunately, Duke was around. The next few years are like a blur. My father had his first of many heart attacks, my father and stepmother divorced, I began to work in the well and pump business, and my father and I moved into a single-wide trailer home across the highway from the Oregon State Correctional Institute.

Figure 3. “Dressed Down Yuri”

I won’t regale you with stories from that time. Suffice to say, though, there were a few late-night knocks on the door from someone in a denim shirt with OSCI embroidered on the back asking if we could give him a lift into nearby Salem (we never did). Duke was with us and he usually growled or barked when they approached the door. He was always the faithful companion and watchdog his sires had been.

The one memory of Duke I still have clearly was his size. Duke was enormous, much larger than his dad and granddad. This was evident every time he decided to lie down for a nap. His favorite place to sleep was at the foot of my cot, which also happened to be next to the front door of our trailer. Whenever Duke laid down, the trailer would literally rock back and forth for a few seconds.

As I grew older, I met my wife-to-be, JoAnne, and out of practicality and necessity, had to turn Duke over to my father. I was shocked to later discover he was trying to sell Duke for $100 to any taker. That was my dad!

I will now make one opposing remark about dogs. My father had a little, white, grungy poodle named Tiger. Tiger was the meanest mutt I ever met. When JoAnne and I started dating, Tiger began showing her affection and snarling at me. In fact, any time I wanted to sit next to JoAnne, the dog would growl and snip at me. I think it was his way of saying, “Stay clear of her if you know what’s good for you!” I didn’t listen.

Brooke and “Yuri”

My daughter Brooke is a true enigma. She is a steadfast negotiator and project manager, excellent engineering technician, and hard-nosed inspector with adults. But put a child or dog in front of her and she becomes jelly.

In fact, if this news were to get around the local construction community, it wouldn’t surprise me if 6-year-old kids started showing up at our prebid or preconstruction conferences.

The one shining example of Brooke’s affection for dogs is Yuri. Yuri was a beautiful white Siberian Husky as evidenced by her photo in Figure 1. Yuri was 2 years old when Brooke got her. Brooke’s 18-year-old son, Brice, also has a Siberian Husky named Able. Finally, my wife and I have a mixed-breed Siberian Husky-Malamute named Moose.

A few years ago, Brooke, Brice, and their two dogs moved into our home. This created a home with four adults and three dogs; it’s quite a combination. The three dogs quickly developed into a pack as this type of dog often does. The three of them began roaming our two acres in search of any animal smaller—and occasionally larger—than them.

Yuri had a somewhat weird personality for a dog (see Figure 2, which shows Brice holding Yuri upside down). Possibly my best memory of Yuri was the night she shoved her head into a pair of our grandson’s pants, which we captured in Figure 3.

She could be frustrating too. She howled at night and insisted on jumping on you when you had an armful of groceries, but the biggest issue was she never liked to stay inside of our fenced yard.

She often jumped the fence and it eventually caught up with her. After doing so again, she was struck by a car as she headed home one day. A knock on our door from an unfortunate, crestfallen driver alerted us. We took her to the veterinarian, but the damage to her internal organs was too great and she died that evening on Brooke’s bed with her head resting on Brooke’s arm.

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The moral of all of this is I don’t wish to dwell on the unfortunate circumstances of our lives right now. These are events that make us appreciate the good times more.

So, which is better? Dogs? Cats? The bottom line is I don’t care which animal a person bonds with—cats, dogs, goldfish, horses, or even rats. Pets provide us happiness, companionship, and usually return every bit of love we show to them without questioning your motives or sincerity.

And remember this: They are often the only friend still willing to lick your face long after your human friends have long stopped!

Until next month, work safe and smart.


Ed Butts, PE, CPI, is the chief engineer at 4B Engineering & Consulting, Salem, Oregon. He has more than 40 years of experience in the water well business, specializing in engineering and business management. He can be reached at epbpe@juno.com.