Remember the Kipper

Remember the Kipper

On Linden Avenue, the street where we live, everyone seemed to know our little black and white dog, so dignified yet gregarious that he somehow got dubbed the street’s mayor. (A 6-year-old girl once promoted him, though—“He’s the president,” she proclaimed.) My husband and I adopted him in springtime and named him Kipling, but he became known as Kipper. I always remembered a New Year’s morning, soon after sunrise, when I was walking with Kip on our silent, deserted street, and a man—no one I knew—drove by in a pickup and broke the silence, shouting out, “Happy New Year, Kipper.”

The veterinarian who had rescued Kip determined that he was part Welsh corgi and part shiba inu—a dog whose ancestors were hunting dogs in the mountains of Japan. He had a glossy black coat, with a white bib and white socks and white markings on his face. He had big ears that reminded me of butterfly wings. He weighed a little over 20 pounds.

Linden Avenue, a dead-end street that runs along the shore of Long Island Sound, is a splendid place for dogs to walk and meet, and friendships blossom. It was out walking that Kipling met a Scottie named Badger who became his best friend. Badger’s tail wagged furiously when he spotted Kipling, and Kipling, a bit more sedate, the older of the two, perked up his butterfly ears and stopped sniffing rocks as he trotted toward Badger.

Once, when we had to be away, Kip stayed overnight with Badger—a historic night for Badger’s family. Badger had been banned from his guardians’ bed. But when they went upstairs at bedtime, Kip followed and jumped onto the bed. He was removed from the bed, and shown the floor. He barked … and barked … and finally the people gave up. Kip again leapt up while Badger dutifully stayed on the floor. But Badger, an eager pupil of his older pal, learned a lesson—persistence wins. In the ensuing days, there were some losing skirmishes until Badger’s folks revoked the bed ban.

We guessed Kipper hadn’t had a playful puppyhood. He wouldn’t fetch balls. Toys bored him. Yet when Badger visited, the two would find an old tennis ball or rawhide bones and get them out of the toy basket and chew them. Then they would tussle like little boys until they grew weary and would lie down near each other.

Kip could run like greased lightning when he was young, and he didn’t mind sprinting off and worrying us—and amusing neighbors. He would tease us, and come back from a little jaunt looking proud as Punch.

He didn’t like water. When we went swimming, Kipper would follow us onto the rocky shore, but he wouldn’t venture out into the water to, say, fetch an interesting piece of driftwood. Nothing about the Sound or any water enticed him. His sorties outside on rainy days were brief; baths of necessity were kept to a minimum.

With this aversion to water, he never went into the Sound on his own. Never. Until one day, when we were walking on a stretch of sandy beach, where Kip liked to run and dig holes in the sand. An out-of-town friend—a classmate of mine who often visited and liked to stroll with Kipling—had just died. Kip, of course, heard me take the phone call that told us our friend was gone. A little later, on the sandy beach, Kip hesitantly walked into the water. I encouraged him—“That’s good, Kippie, go out a little more”—and Kip waded out a little more, going into the water until it was up to his chest, looking back toward me. I smiled at him. It was, I suspected, probably the only way Kippie knew to console me. He had never walked into the water like that before, and he never did again.

Kipling was not a demonstrative dog, a kissy dog. He didn’t jump up and down and bark when we returned from some place. When we pulled into the driveway, he would simply sit by a window, and look out until we had the sense to come in and greet him, and then his tail would whirl like a windmill. The first day he came to his new home, he observed everything, checked out the place of everything. At day’s end, noting the house custom, he followed us to bed and jumped up in bed and sniffed my face, his whiskers tickling me. He sniffed and sniffed, and then apparently was satisfied. It was the closest he ever came to kissing me.

In late years, Kipling suffered from heart disease. He died on a winter day, late in the afternoon, just before sunset. The setting sun turned the whole sky, from east to west, a wondrous golden blaze.

Remembering now, it seems there was something mystical about this little dog. About his understanding, about the way his big eyes would gaze into our eyes, about his real and true friendships. Days and months go by, and still we remember a funny little dog scratching at the door … and the day a door closed and the sky turned gold.

Barbara “Bobbie” Carlson ’50, a longtime reporter and freelance writer, lives in Branford, Conn.

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