Leimkuhler: To all the dogs I've loved before

When I was born, my parents brought me home to a house with three German Shepherds.

One, named King, was extremely protective of me. As my parents tell it, King once sat at the threshold of my nursery and prevented a known babysitter from entering.


One of the others, Lobo, would routinely steal the night’s dinner from atop the counter where some delectable cut of meat sat defrosting. It was not uncommon for him to eat an entire raw chuck roast. Weary of the counter surfing and feeling that a townhouse was too small for three big dogs and an infant, my mother decided that Lobo should be given to a local police officer that wanted him.

But my parents missed Lobo so much that, in the dead of night, they drove to the officer’s home and whistled for the dog, who leapt the backyard fence and joyfully bounded into my parent’s waiting car.

There are many pictures of me as a toddler cuddling with our beloved Lobo.

The first dog I really remember, however, was a stray named Taffy. My dad had a huge soft spot for dogs and would routinely bring home strays he found wandering about. But, for some unknown reason, when I was in first or second grade, we went to a breeder in Virginia to get a dog.

A Pomeranian — our first small breed dog.

Since my brother was only a toddler, the breeder would not allow us to have a puppy, deeming toy breed puppies too fragile for toddlers. But she did have 9-month-old male available at a discounted price. We named him Bouncer.

I don’t really know much about Bouncer’s background — maybe a previous owner returned him? — but I do know he was a little neurotic and drove us all a bit crazy.

He lifted his leg all over the house — a habit we could never fully break him of — he barked all the time, and he randomly had unexplained mild seizures. He also became very attached to my mom, which was disheartening for me as he was supposed to be “my” dog.

In fourth grade, I finally got my dog. My parents bribed me, telling me that if I got straight A’s on my report card, we would get another Pomeranian — a puppy this time.

My parents let the single B in handwriting slide, and we were once again on our way to Virginia. This time, the breeder allowed us to have a puppy and we brought home the cutest, tiniest ball of fur I’d ever seen.

I named her Buffy, and she was truly “my” dog. She followed me everywhere and slept on my bed at night, curled behind my knees. Sadly, at only 2 years old, Buffy suffered an untimely, tragic death and my heart was broken.

There would be no more small dogs for me.

A year later, when I was 13, my parents decided on a Golden Retriever for my brother’s ninth birthday. Though the dog was technically my brother’s dog, Brandy was ultimately a family dog. She loved us all and was an absolute joy.

Quite possibly the best and smartest dog I’ve ever had.


I spent a lot of time with Brandy — bathing her, brushing her, walking her, and taking her to obedience classes. Brandy went on family vacations with us, camping and boating and swimming in the lake.

And she went hunting with my Dad, gently retrieving fallen fowl from the ponds and fields.

When I went to college, I missed Brandy terribly. But when I returned home for summer and winter breaks, Brandy routinely accompanied me on 5-mile runs around the neighborhood. She didn’t need a leash.

She knew the command “heel” meant she was to stay by my side and she always did, never once giving in to the temptation to chase a squirrel or greet another dog. She was the best running buddy I ever had.

By the time Brandy was 12, she was suffering from cancer and covered in lumps. I knew when I went home that time it would not be to go for a run with Brandy, but to say goodbye.

Columnist’s note: This column is the first in a multi-part ode to all the dogs I’ve loved.