Recently I saw a report about how trainers at the New Zealand SPCA are teaching rescue dogs to drive. It made me think of a recurring dream my dad had of our dog Zipper driving his Lee Antique Company truck. I don’t know if I ever knew the details of my dad’s dream; if so, they are long gone from my mind. But I like to imagine Zipper and my dad sitting in the cab of the truck, ready to embark upon some glorious canine-human buddy road trip.
Truly, if any dog is capable of driving, it should have been Zipper. It is difficult to separate truth from family legend, but I was told she was part German Shepherd and part Doberman Pincher. She was smaller than is typical for either breed; more slender than a Shepherd, but longhaired and with Shepherd coloring. She looked a bit like a wild dog. I thought Zipper was beautiful, but as adults looking at photos of her taken long ago, my sister and I concede that OTHERS who did not know Zipper might have thought she was ugly. Zipper was fiercely intelligent, determinedly wild, and unwaveringly loyal. As a little girl, I whispered my secrets to her, and she protected me from anything or anyone she considered threatening. When we traveled from Dallas to visit family and friends in Philadelphia, they would ask about Zipper, as if inquiring about a family member, which, of course, she was. There was even a Zipper song, created by my older brother. I still remember it.
When my mother, sisters, and I moved to Havertown, Zipper remained behind in Dallas with my father. After my mom found a house for us, my father sent Zipper north with our furniture because he said without us there, she had found a spot in the yard and settled down to die. By this time, Zipper was quite old, but after she arrived in Havertown, she lived for several more months until her heart stopped and she died in her sleep one night, as though she didn’t want to cause us any bother.
Zipper was brave and true. She was my hero.
What makes dogs or other pets heroes? What makes us risk our lives for our pets and vice-versa? Susan Orlean’s 2011 book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend recounts the remarkable rags-to-riches story of the amazing German Shepherd, rescued as an orphaned puppy from a World War I battlefield by Corporal Lee Duncan to become a movie star. And Rin Tin Tin was a true star, not merely an animal sidekick. He nearly won the first Oscar for best actor, until the Academy decided the award had to go to a human. When Rin Tin Tin died in 1932, news reports interrupted radio shows throughout the nation.
Zipper never outwitted bad guys, nor did she rescue people in dramatic on-screen adventures. Millions did not mourn her death, but my family did. If there is a Heaven, or some sort of alternate world, I like to imagine that she and my dad are driving around in truck together, listening to the radio, and stopping to eat and play pinochle with my dad’s friends. I bet Zipper would win.