My home is haunted by a small dog.
Puff died more than 11 days ago, almost 16 years to the day after she arrived in our home. But she's still around the house. The house creaks and I hear the tinkling of her dog tags. I turn on a light so I won't step on her in the darkness of our bedroom. I wonder why she's not under foot when the refrigerator door opens.
We forget to take our vitamins and other pills because she's not there begging for the hot dog we used to entice her to take her medicine. We sleep later.
That's the way dogs work. They weasel their way into your heart and you can't pry them out with a crowbar.
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Puff wasn't supposed to be a dog. We went to the Humane Society of South Mississippi in search of a cat after ours, another long-lived animal named Puddy Tat or Cat depending on the mood, died. Pam saw something neither I nor Jacob recognized in the scruffy matted dog in the shadows of a cage in the shelter that used to be off Washington Avenue.
Pam looked at her and saw a dog with a silky coat and a fetching smile. I saw a smelly mess. You already know who was right. That mess became Puff on the way home.
Once at our house, it took all of 10 minutes for her to joyfully jump on Jacob's bare legs, scratching them.
"I told you we should have picked a cat," he observed. And so began their relationship. You could call it on-again, off-again.
They would play in the backyard, running in circles, dog behind boy then vice versa, testing the endurance of an 8-year-old's heart and a dog's heart. That went on for years until Puff started slowing down.
Indoors, Puff would allow Jacob to approach with one hand extended but if he would walk toward her with both hands out, as if he were about to pick her up, hilarity would ensue.
I admit I didn't think it was funny at first, all that growling and snapping, but once I was sure Puff wasn't trying to open a major artery, I got with that program, too.
Jacob nicknamed her the "Brown Snapper."
Puff paid Pam back for saving her life by taking up with me. Pam would call her, she'd jump in my lap.
"Traitor," was Pam's response. But she bathed the traitor regularly. Trimmed her fur and ensured she had food and water when the lesser mortals in Puff's life forgot. She'd joke that Puddy Tat's spirit had invaded the dog's body. Puff could be aloof, and she groomed herself like a cat, and left to her own devices preferred a solitary life. Unless she was left at home on the days when everyone worked. She then would revert to what became known as the "brown howler."
We took her on walks most mornings -- sometimes the whole family, sometimes just me, sometimes husband and wife, sometimes father and son. It was on a father-son outing that I learned Jacob detested that late fall and early spring weather where the sun would warm whichever side of the body faced it while the other half remained thoroughly chilled by air that retained winter's bite.
Puff celebrated such revelations by noticing we were preoccupied in weighty discussions, then sneaking over and pooping in a neighbor's yard.
She was, you could say, a character.
I suppose soon, I'll pull into the carport and not wonder why Puff isn't at the door. One day. Maybe.
Contact Paul Hampton, politics editor for the Sun Herald at 896-2330 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fuss at him on Twitter@jpaulhampton.