When our two youngest sons, Marc and Dave, were seven and six, we acquired a puppy from a neighbor. The boys named him Palomino, because, being part miniature white poodle and part apricot cocker spaniel, they thought he was the color of a Palomino horse. As the dog grew, he turned white and resembled a poodle more than a cocker spaniel, but his legs were longer than poodles'. Fully grown, he weighed only fifteen pounds--mostly fur--and everyone called him Pal.
He adored the boys, played with them and let them tease him, never biting. Babies or small children, who pulled his hair or poked his eyes, were in no danger, either, because he simply crept away and hid. He learned tricks easily, such as "Sit Up," "Roll Over," and "Shake Hands" (with the right paw, of course).
Pal loved walks, and rushed to the front door whenever anyone picked up his leash. Occasionally Marc and Dave forgot to close the side gate, and Pal ran away for an afternoon or evening. Then they rode out on their bicycles to look for him, or I drove slowly around town in the car, calling his name. Most of the time we found him ourselves, or a neighbor called, since he wore a license with our phone number on his collar.
As the boys reached their teens, they became very conscientious about taking Pal for his last walk of the evening. We thought this had grown exceptionally long until we discovered that a family with three teenage daughters lived at the end of our block.
One summer morning I came downstairs, and, instead of Pal, I found a note saying he had run away while the boys were talking to the neighbor girls and they had not been able to find him. I roused them from bed and they searched for him on their bicycles, but they returned alone. Then I went out in the car, but also had no luck. I left the side gate open and went on with my activities, and about noon I heard a familiar bark from the back yard. There stood Pal in front of the sliding glass door, waiting to be let in. He was filthy, his hair matted and coated with dirt, and he headed instantly for his water dish and drank as if he had just crossed the Sahara.
He got a good bath and brushing and spent the rest of the day sleeping in his bed in the family room. That night, Marc and Dave got his leash, opened the front door and called to him, but Pal refused to go out. I could swear the look on his face said, "Oh, no, you lost me last night. I'm not going to do that again.”
Of course, by the next night he had forgotten his ordeal. He loved the boys and was up for anything they had in mind. When they were too busy for him, doing homework for instance, Pal would go into their rooms, find their discarded socks and carry them to his dog bed. A year later, while digging in the garden, my husband found a sock buried in the ice plant.
When Marc and Dave were away at upper school, my husband and I took Pal for his nightly walk, and at eleven o'clock he would pull his own leash off the railing and carry it into the front hall. The reward of one of his dog biscuit treats may have had something to do with his learning that.
Later he taught himself another trick. One night we heard a noise coming from the darkened kitchen. I tiptoed into the room and found that Pal had learned how to push open the door to the pantry (where his box of dog treats was kept on the lowest shelf) and had his head inside the box, busily eating as many as he could.
On Christmas day, Pal, who was not allowed in the living room at any other time, seemed to know that this was an exception and, gradually inched into the room. Then, getting bolder when no one scolded him, he rushed from one person to another, wagging his short tail, as if saying, "Merry Christmas from me too." His present--usually a new squeaky toy--was wrapped and placed under the tree, and at gift-opening time, he found it first, and bit the wrappings off. We never figured out how he knew which was his among the dozens of gifts, but perhaps it carried the smell of the pet store.
Our house was located on the lagoon that ran through the town, with a boat dock and small sailboat. Pal became an instant sailor and was the first into the boat when we hoisted the sails. Usually, he stood on the bow, letting the breeze lift his ears, sniffing the wind. If we didn't take him with us, he sat on the dock, looking forlorn, until we returned. Naturally, I put his leash on his collar and held the end in my hands, but he only lost his footing once, when we came about suddenly on a very windy day. When we sailed past neighbors' backyards, other dogs sometimes rushed down to the water's edge, or out onto their own docks to bark at him, but he never responded.
In fact, Pal almost never barked. Only a stranger coming to the front door could make him lose his cool. He had to be taught to "Speak" and it took quite a while and a lot of dog treats before he did it on command. Surprisingly, his bark was deep and loud, so that he sounded like a much larger animal. One night, when the boys were away at college and my husband was out of town on a business trip, Pal's barking woke me up and I didn't hesitate to grab the phone and call the police. Sure enough, they found evidence someone had come into our fenced-in back yard. Whoever it was had been scared off by the barking of a fuzzy white fifteen-pound Cockapoo.