Sit, Stay, Okay!
By Nancy Crovetti
“Sit, Stay, Okay” were important words to me, growing up in New England where our family always had at least three dogs at any given time; three big dogs. Not Great Dane gigantic – but big enough to be what I considered a Real Dog – that you could wrap your arms around or rest your head on for a pillow. Some dogs I remembered only from Bell and Howell home movies or Kodak snapshots; but one particular trio became my responsibility: Christopher Robin, (a black and tan hound with long, droopy ears, supposedly part Blood Hound), Duchess, (a silver and black German Shepherd mix) and Duke (their son, a black and fawn mix with ears that were neither erect nor droopy, just floppy). They were my Rin Tin Tin, my Lassie, and my Old Yeller: the first dogs I was responsible for.
My father taught our three-pack to SIT, and then STAY, so that I had ample time to deliver a pan of food to each dog while the others waited. Dad taught them using stern voice commands and hand signals. He practiced and drilled them again and again until they knew exactly what was expected of them. It was up to seven year old me to reinforce that everyday.
It made me feel powerful when the three of them sat before their food bowls. While they were at SIT, I kept my hand, palm-out flat: “St-aaa-aaa-yyyyyy…” I watched their anticipation as I slowly backed away. If one broke the STAY I shouted an immediate correction, mimicking Dad: “UTTTTT!” I’d bark. “SIT! STAY!” After several seconds, once sure I had each one’s attention, I shouted a releasing “OKAY!” In unison, they wolfed down their Gravy Train, sometimes mixed with leftovers my mother heated for them.
Mum was a woman of few, but wise words. “Think before you speak” was a favorite maxim, or “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill” and “Cross that bridge when you come to it.” About animals she said, “Every child should have a dog.” Not only to feed and take care of, but also as a confidant, a pal. The youngest of her six children, I was the last one left at home. She understood why I was usually “out with the dogs,” running with them, racing them with my bike or just hanging around together. Tending her rose gardens outside, I knew she heard me when I sometimes talked to the dogs, chatting or commiserating, even singing songs or reading to them. They would follow me partway down the lane to the bus each school morning and be waiting for me each afternoon when the bus dropped me off. The dogs and I were, in a way, responsible for one another.
One winter Saturday, to give my mother some respite from my whining boredom, I was outside in the yard at a shallow pond, formed by an upstream brook that ran under the lane and through a culvert. I wasn’t quite done with skating for the winter, and wanted to see if the pond was iced, as it had been only a few days earlier. Poking a long branch toward the middle of the pond, I knew enough to not walk directly onto the surface. The worn tread on my red rubber boots found a frosty patch at the edge and my feet came out from under me as the ice gave way. I found myself suddenly looking at the sky and bare trees above me, and I was in the icy water, flailing about still holding the branch. All I could think of was the big trouble I was going to be in for getting drenched.
Suddenly there loomed the droopy ears and cold nose of Christopher Robin; Duchess was at my elbow, trying to get my sleeve; Duke was mouthing at my foot, trying to get a hold of my boot. Then Chris grabbed part of the branch in his mouth and Duke took another part! With two tugging the limb I took hold of Duchess’ collar until I was able to sit up, then got to my knees and crawled up on the bank. I stared at them in astonishment.
“YOU SAVED ME!” I told them in utter amazement. Together we ran to the house where I couldn’t wait to tell Mum what the dogs had done. Had it not been for my three loyal and faithful sidekicks, I might have drowned! Surely their bravery trumped my foolishness.
So, much of my understanding about dogs – animal intelligence, loyalty, love and loss – has been learned from dogs. I was not a kid who ever had to be reminded to feed the dogs – it was part of the day I most looked forward to. I didn’t know then that not everyone shared my commitment or love for dogs that began with three simple words: Sit, Stay, Okay!
About this writer
- Nancy Crovetti is a freelance writer from Lamoni, Iowa. She discovered Sasee while visiting Myrtle Beach with her three sisters. Last July when the last of her dog family passed away, the kennels sprouted ears of volunteer corn, one for each of her six Rotts.
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