It was the happiest day of my then 3-year-old life. The year before, my parents tried to placate me with a stuffed toy animal in the approximate shape of a dog, but even a 2-year-old can tell the difference between a facsimile and the genuine article. Their creative but disingenuous ploy didn’t work. I wanted the real thing.
A year later – probably after enduring my countless and ceaseless pleas – my parents capitulated and gave me what I had so desperately wanted since I had the ability to utter the word “doggy.”
Though my recollection of the day’s events have faded from memory, an old black-and-white photo that my mother took with her Kodak Brownie camera remains. It captured one of the most important photos of my life – the day Stinker arrived.
It was the day my I met my first real friend.
Stinker (yes, that was his actual name) was an 8-week-old border collie mix who quickly earned a reputation for getting into things he shouldn’t. In time, it would come to be a reputation we would both share. Fortunately for me, my parents named me Ronald before I had had the opportunity to fully display my propensity for mischievousness, or I may have ended up with Stinker’s moniker and he with mine.
Like many other “dog people,” my love and respect for dogs is rooted in my childhood memories. He was there for me with each passing year of my childhood. He was always there for me when things hadn’t gone well at school or when I found myself in trouble with my parents or when I had quarreled with my friends. He was always happy to see me. Always ready to play. Always, there to give his full measure of devotion.
From Stinker to Tiger, to Bogie to Skippy to Jasmine, nearly every chapter of my life is either filled with a dog’s companionship and loyalty or is a chapter that is somehow less robust without the presence of one of my canine friends.
So it will come as no surprise that as I began writing novels for young adults, I found myself relying upon the memories of those wonderful friends, and the adventures we had together in the fields and woods of my central Missouri childhood. And because I write fiction, I’ve even had the opportunity to imbue those wonderful creatures with some mystical powers that I had always fancied them having.
Regrettably, we often outlive our dogs. But because they have given us that full measure of devotion and unqualified love, they keep living in our hearts. Now, if only vicariously through the pages in my novels for young adults, my dog friends have come back to life again. I just hope those canine characters can bring to my young readers some of the joy the genuine articles brought to me. If my fictional characters can do that, then perhaps I have been successful in paying forward some of the unqualified love I’ve received from my canine friends through the years.
Editor’s note: Ron Nichols is a young adult novelist who lives with his wife, daughter and two dogs in Greensboro, NC. “C.J. Brown’s Diamonds in the Rough” is his recent novel published by Martin Sisters Publishing, and brings to life the love, magic and heroism of his favorite canine friends.