Social media tells me that last week featured a “National Dog Day.”
Readers of “Our Garden” will know that the book heavily features a large, black dog named Snuffles. He even has a bean tepee named in his honor in the story, and spends most of his time playing with the kid and trying to keep a raccoon from stealing the family’s corn.
So, in honor of National Dog Day, allow me to offer a brief tribute to the real-life Snuffles.
Snuffles was born in 2008 to good friends who found his mother, Greta, running wild in the country. After no one claimed her, they decided to adopt Greta into their family. Greta is a calm, medium sized German Shepherd Dog. Gentle even.
And then they realized she was pregnant with eight puppies. Seven of them lived. Some had more traditional German Shepherd markings. Some were black. They all looked like little bears.
One pup in particular seemed destined to become a Domek dog. In particular, he was a bit of a loner who preferred my company to his brothers and sisters. He lived with us for a few weeks, and then ultimately with my parents where he has stayed and become a garden dog and pet to the extended family.
As a pup, he was not exactly “easy.” He wasn’t food motivated, and scoffed at the clicker. Very loving, but he had one unfortunate habit in that he really liked to bite people in the butt. Not the heels, or the leg, mind you. No—Snuffles would walk up behind unsuspecting people trying to have a conversation and leap and sink a tooth into the gluteus maximus. It was great at parties. And by “great,” I mean it was rather insufferable.
But much like insufferable kids can turn out to be halfway decent human beings(Hi Mom!), Snuffles turned out alright. Eventually, he went to dog boot camp where his best qualities really shined. He grew and grew, until he matured into an extraordinarily intelligent, yet frighteningly large dog. He weighs in at 120 pounds, and while he is good natured he looks like the kind of a dog that if you saw him upon awakening after death, you might think to yourself—I should have made better life choices…
Which is why it is really a spectacle to see my five year old daughter putting a giant dog through his paces—and he listens!
Daughter’s orders notwithstanding, he is a strong willed beast for sure. But it also seems to carry into his desire to serve his people even if we don’t always realize we need it. This is best exemplified when my wife, Anna, and I were taking him for a walk along the American River, in Sacramento, when she was pregnant with our first child (now the five year old girl he loves so much).
Snuffles was walking at my side on his leash. It was probably January or so, as Anna wasn’t showing much yet. At any rate, someone was walking another big dog down the trail without a leash. The dog saw us, let out a growl and ran straight at us snarling—but heading directly toward Anna. Before I really processed what was happening, Snuff left my side and squared up in front of Anna, stopping her forward progression. When the dog tried to leap at us, he knocked it to the ground and didn’t let it up until the owner ran over and grabbed the dog by its collar, cursed at us for “provoking” her dog, and then ran off.
And a year or so later, when a beloved neighbor had fallen in the backyard, and was calling for help for over an hour—Snuffles wouldn’t shut up. No one could hear him, but Snuffles did. When my Pops came out to tell him to knock it off—he would quiet up. And then my dad heard the faint cries for help.
There are many Snuffles stories, but none warms my heart more than thinking about the time after my Dad had been in the hospital for five or so months that we brought Snuffles to reunite with him. As soon as my father’s hospital bed was wheeled into the courtyard where we were waiting, Snuff practically tore my arm off to get to him. He put his big ol’ paws on the bed and let my dad scratch his ears like old times. What love.
And what a dog.