Father’s Day gift reminds me of my father’s skill with dogs

Talking with my sister, Jane, reminded both of us what tremendous skill and love our father had for dogs

Ralph (Robbie) Robinson was a shrewd  entrepreneur. At one point in time, he leased lady shoe departments from the Sweet briar and Dillard Department Store chains in Cheyenne, Casper, and Laramie Wyoming; Logan, Utah; Greeley, Colorado and Rapid City, South Dakota. He also opened a children’s department in the Cheyenne stored called Robbie ‘ s Zoo, complete with a stuffed animal zoo and six foot tall, electric, nodding giraffe under the stairs.

The majority of his career he managed the Cheyenne stores and he had two male managers in Casper and Rapid City who stayed with him his entire 30 odd years in the business. He always said the managers made the business. He closed the other stores in Utah, Laramie and Greeley finding it difficult to keep his small shoe empire profitable without  key managers in place.

With the three locations, he provided us with an upper middle class life style. We belonged to the country club, owned a quarter horse, had lessons in a variety  of sports, traveled a little, had cars in high school and went to a private college. My sister and I were both in college at the same time so the private school was not a small bill to pay.  When I was young,  I didn’t think much about money or life style. We owned a store and when extra hands were needed, for example Christmas and back-to-school we worked at the store. In retrospect, I can see that maintaining our life style through economic ups and downs  was no small feat.

This blog, however, is not about dad as a business man but dad’s  life as a dog trainer. Knowing his business skills and take no prisoner competitive spirit in cards and golf, it is surprising  that he was an expert at training dogs.

The first dog I can remember was Hokey-Dokey, a red-gold cocker spaniel. I remember Hokey as big. Since I was 2 or 3 at the time, it occurred  to me writing this blog  that Hokey was probably cocker size and I was dimiutive, eye-level with the dog. Dad trained Hokey to jump through a hoop, dance on his hind legs, and sit up. Dad and Hokey would dress up in costumes.  Hokey wore a tutu, and dad wore a bow tie. They would  go to events to perform. I was always delighted to be included in the audience for the performance. I was in second grade when Hokey died.

Barney, the beagle, was dad’s one failure. The dog was adorable except for his baying voice and the fact that he ran away all the time, even though we had a brick fence. He would run up to my grandmother’s house three blocks away. When the animal control officer would come to her door because of a complaint, Barney woukd stick his head around grandmother’s leg and bark. Dad finally gave Barney to one of his employees.

Along the way, we had two more black cockers, one after the other. Dutchess and Princess. Dutchess was particularly adept at jumping from the ground to the saddle so she could ride on my quarter horse with me.

Probably the best example of dad’s dog training skill was Bumper, an extremely large, absolutely gorgeous, purebred Black and white English springer spaniel. Bumper was the last of dad’s dogs. My family home was dogless when I moved back to Cheyenne for a job after graduate school.

black-english-springer-spaniel-puppies-dakota-the-english-springer-spaniel-puppies-daily-puppy
Bumper looked like this when I brought her home. She quickly grew to the size of a golden retriever.

I saw an animal shelter advertisement with Bumper ‘ s picture. Bumper was about six months old and had been relinquished because she was afraid of guns. My family didn’t hunt so this wasn’t a problem. I asked mom and dad if they would like the dog. I wasn’t living with them so it wouldn’t be my dog. When they said yes, I went and got them Bumper.

I am not sure it was love at first sight. Bumper had acquired some annoying habits before joining the family such as jumping up on people. She was large when I got her but she grew to be as large as a small golden retriever, way over-sized for an English springer spaniel.  But Bumper certainly had her day when our family found her.

My dad trained her to walk from home to the store every day with him. She and he stopped at the post office each morning where she became well known. She stayed under his desk by his feet but would come out and greet children in the store when the sales clerks asked the kids if they would to pet a dog. Always polite when meeting children, she would sit quietly soaking in the attenton, jumping vanquished to another life time. But her greatest skill and one of my dad’s greatest joys was he trained her to carry the bank bag of deposits to the bank and stand up at the teller’s desk to deliver the cash. All the tellers’ had treats for her. She had her choice of lines. Dad and Bumper were featured in the bank’s print advertising as an example of the bank’s home-town, customer friendly service. Bumper and dad became known all over Cheyenne. They would be greeted as a team where-ever they went.

My dad retired when the Sweet briar stores went bankrupt. He was doing fine in his leased departments but had no base of operation. Fortunately, his business acumen held. He was able to support he and mom for many years on his investments. Bumper lived the life of leisure during this retirement period; going for rides, swimming for sticks in the country club lake, an activity she never tired of.

When my mom died, my dad remarried within six months to a woman who didn’t want Bumper. Dad asked me to take her. I declined because my job required a lot of travel. I had a sheltie, Ginger Rogers, who went with me everywhere. I couldn’t see taking two dogs all over Wyoming for work. With the perspective of age, I can see I could have been more flexible.At the time,  I thought Dad’s new wife should have been more flexible. Family dynamics after a death with a quick remarriage are complex. Finally, Dad found a friend who was down on his luck and needed a place to live. Dad let the man stay in our family home rent free as long as he took care of the house and Bumper.  Dad and I both regularly visited Bumper who seemed  fine with  this arrangement but I think missed her owner, my father. Bumper died two years after my mom. At that point, my dad emptied our family home (the family was now all living elsewhere) and sold it.

What did I learn from my dad about dogs. First,patience yields great rewards. Dogs love to meet their owners expectations and in turn a well-trained dog can bring joy to a family and in Bumper ‘ s case an entire community.  Second, dogs are pets not children. We gave Barney away when he was disrupting our family’s life style. Dad married his new love even though she didn’t share his passion for dogs. After dad died, she got two cats whom she was fanatical about. Third,there are solutions to complex family dynamics. Bumper had a forever home because she was a great dog with a huge heart.

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