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Going to the dogs

After avoiding dogs for most of my life, I have lost my heart to a German Shepherd mountain cur mix named Ruby.

Ruby is a 10-month-old German Shepherd mountain cur mix.
Ruby is a 10-month-old German Shepherd mountain cur mix.Sondra Cullen

After tossing and turning for weeks, trying to figure out how to put it into words, I finally confided to my wife of 35 years that I am in love with a much younger female.

Her name is Ruby and she’s a 10-month-old German Shepherd mountain cur mix.

That I should fall in love with a dog, let alone be in the same room as one, is nothing short of astonishing.

I grew up in Malden and don’t remember a single dog in our neighborhood. I don’t remember knowing a dog by name until I was much older.

As a kid, dogs were things I saw in cartoons and on TV shows. I’d watch “Lassie” and wonder how on earth Timmy could understand what it was barking. It made absolutely no sense that Lassie was so intelligent because all the dogs in the cartoons got outsmarted by a cat or a rabbit.

At one point, my brother wanted a dog but my parents wouldn’t hear of it. They weren’t dog people.

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As I got older, some of my friends started getting dogs, and I realized I was allergic to most of them. The dogs, that is.

My wife grew up in a family with dogs, including a beagle that was named, not especially originally, Snoopy. When we would visit friends with big hairy setters or labs, those dogs made a beeline not for my wife, the dog lover, but me. Within minutes, I’d be sneezing, experiencing watery eyes and shortness of breath. I regularly left social gatherings early because of my discomfort.

My kids, like most kids, wanted a dog. My wife was pretty blunt, telling them, “If we get a dog, Dad might die.”

My older son understood completely, but the younger one, Brendan, had to think about it.

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“Why can’t Dad stay outside?” Brendan asked.

My wife turned to me and asked, approvingly, “Yeah. Why can’t you stay outside?”

After Brendan married Sondra, a dog lover, they went looking for a rescue dog. They found Ruby in Arkansas.

Ruby arrived in the middle of a pandemic, and given that Brendan and Sondra live 100 miles away from us, I expected to see little of them. But the pandemic shrunk our social circle to just family and we saw a lot of Ruby.

Out of necessity, I began taking allergy medicine, washed my hands regularly after petting Ruby, and worked on keeping my hands away from my face.

When we arrive at their house, or they arrive at ours, Ruby greets us enthusiastically, running back and forth between us, maybe 20 times or more, before settling down.

I’m an early riser so I’m usually the first up with Ruby. I take her outside so she can do her business, then we watch TV together on the couch. She likes Premier League soccer on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I spoil her with biscuits.

Ruby knows I’m a soft touch. At the dinner table, she doesn’t even bother hitting the others up for scraps, resting her snout on my thigh, staring up with those doe eyes, knowing I’ll give in.

During the winter, we snowshoed with her. Being a shepherd, she runs ahead, then runs back and circles around us, to keep us moving. Hiking up Mount Ascutney recently, she did the same.

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The only thing remotely negative about Ruby is that, sometimes, in the car, she can be gassy. But then that’s just one more thing she and I have in common.

On Sunday, we walked over to our village green, where Ruby immediately took up with Grace, a red lab, Stella, a yellow lab, and Zoe, a French bulldog. Watching these dogs of different ages, colors, and breeds act as if they had been friends for life was revealing. They carry none of the pride or prejudice of humans. They love unconditionally.

The one concept I still don’t understand is owning a dog. If you get the right dog, it’s the other way around. Ruby owns me.


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.