I love animals.  Just adore newly born, fur covered little beings that are warm and want to snuggle up into the curl or your arm or neck, making small suckling sounds, smelling like the gift of Heaven itself.  Its plainly obvious that I, well…our whole family, is addicted to that delightful temptation of wee furry beings — it literally sounds like a kennel when you ring our doorbell.  I had someone ask me that one time – “Do you run a kennel?”  I’m not kidding.  We have three dogs.  A small regal family: Duke, Duchess and Baron.  Duke is a cross between a lab and a hound dog.  Imagine the rich chestnut hair, long floppy incredibly soft ears, the black that rims his eyes, the brilliant white of his chest. Imagine the shedding.  He’s loyal and quiet as the senior among the three.  Loves me and my bed.   The other two are schnoodles, which are a cross of a poodle and schnauzer.  Duchess is Baron’s momma, a tiny charcoal colored thing with dark eyes and long lashes, and the tiniest snub of a tail that wags her entire hind half when she’s happy.  Her son stands about an inch or two taller, has curlier, more wiry hair and is an apricot color.  She’s the bitch – in gender and attitude and he’s the sweet, docile loving soul that might be a little bit retarded.  Everyone loves Baron.  They are wary of Duchess.  She acts as if she might rip your leg off without remorse, all 12 lbs of her.

They are part of our family and I love them.  I just sometimes wish they were dead.  Or at least gone.

Generally they’re not much trouble.  They hang out with me all day, they eat, and they wander outside into the yard to sniff the ground, bark at people in the park, and chase each other.  They sometimes find an animal and chase it down.  Once I think they each took a corner of a rabbit, pulling till it ripped in three pieces.  Baron brought me the rabbit head and laid it outside my bedroom door, apparently proud of his gift.  Duke was found gnawing on a back leg in the foyer, loudly crunching through the femur.  Duchess’ was gone.  Refer above to her ripping your leg off.

But generally, they’re quiet.  Even company, in some sort of weird way.  It’s not like they carry on a conversation with me.  But they do act as though they like me, jumping on me with a loud ruckus every time I come home and plant themselves in whatever room I’m in.  I’m a sucker for those that openly express that kind of love for me.

But Duke steals my food.  Even if it’s on the kitchen counter.  I may make a mouth watering, tall sandwich and decide to go to the bathroom before I sit down, and returning, it could be gone.  Duke’s no where to be found and there’s little more than a small piece of lettuce on the floor.  He steps on my toes, tries to knock me down in his exuberance to get down the stairs first, and he crushes me when I wake up in bed as he lies across my chest to place his face by mine in a happy wet morning welcoming.

Duchess and Baron – well, they poop.  And pee.  In the house.  On occasion.  Duchess more than Baron because she doesn’t like the wet or the cold.  That kinda messes with her excremental function two thirds of the time.  We had to build an entire new house to get away from the smell they created in our sunroom of the last house.  Seriously.  It was bad.  So, in this one, I put in all hard wood floors so they wouldn’t get that smell into the carpet fibers.  It’s in the wood grain.  Of one special area that they’ve found in our formal living room.  So much that it’s making the wood start to splinter a bit.

And three dogs cost a tremendous amount to kennel when you travel a lot.  Which we do.  We take off probably at least once every three months, sometimes more.  It’s 20 bucks a head times three.  And guess who drops them off and picks them up each time?

Speaking of expensive, there’s no doggy insurance at the vet.  Well, there is.  But it costs more to have it than not unless you have a sickly dog.  So it’s usually about 200 a pop every time we go…..times three.  Big bucks, and I’m literally dragging them through the door to go.  They all love to ride in the car, but somehow, in some crazy dog sense kind of way, they KNOW they are going to the vet within a mile of our driveway.  Never mind that they travel this way three hundred other times when they are in the car with me.  They know, and then the full body shuttering takes over, the hiding under the car seats, and the tug of war into the office building.  AND the lecture about them eating too much food.  Guess who gets the treat of taking them to the beloved vet on a regular basis?

Oh, and I mentioned car rides?  Those are always a treat.  They love them.  Are boisterously anxious to drive with me.  In my seat.  On my lap.  All three of them.  I’m continually knocking off the losing two, the ones that didn’t get there first, out of the way.  Even if Duke is the winner, he’s over 65 lbs – though he’s embarrassed to admit that and would like to imagine he’s less than 20 – I have to push him to the passenger seat.  Finally he’ll give up and just sit there like a human passenger, sitting tall and watching the passerby’s.  Baron licks the window.  Duchess stands on her two back legs, toenails digging deep gouges in my legs, screeching and barking bloody murder,  at people that would have the audacity to walk on the side of the street.  Apparently they hadn’t gotten the memo that it was owned by the Ritchie family.  Refer above to the ripping off of a leg.  People are so concerned about drinking and driving or texting and driving, they should be much more concerned about the Ritchie dog menagerie and driving.  You’d think we’d get traveling kennels.  But what fun would that be for the dogs being cooped up in a pen?

The worst, I mean absolute worst thing about our dogs is that they run.  Escape our yard and run free.  I mean, it’s not terrible to me.  I remember a day in which that’s just what people did.  The dogs would run neighborhood to neighborhood, making friends, smelling butts, and barring any kind of automobile accident, they’d return home weary and sleep the rest of the day.  It’s how I think dog ownership should be.  People have gotten waaay too up tight about dog leash laws and cleaning up after their poop.  I mean, come on.  It’s bio-degradable.   We have a large fenced area in the back yard that they can run in, but when it’s past sunset, we like to let them out to run in the 150 acre park that’s right beside us.

Little did I know that they didn’t stay within the trees in which their tails disappeared within.  They have also been crossing the street – the major street with cars that pass by often at 35-50 mph a clip, depending on how late the driver was.  Baron doesn’t.  He doesn’t wander far because when he was a baby, he had a small incident with one of those passing cars.  They say it’s the best thing that can happen to a dog.  Have them meet their match with a speeding metal mechanical monster and live.  Baron did.  (Could be the reason that he licks windows.)So he  runs for a small trek behind the two others, then wanders home.  The other two, I guess they’ve gotten tired of the 150 acres and are now crossing the street.  Terrorizing the neighborhood, I hear.  Tempting sweet things out of their electric fences.  Being bullies with those good dogs on their leashes.

I have to use every bit of my God given patience to withstand the tongue lashing I’ve gotten from neighbors that aren’t happy with our dog ownership skills.  That don’t believe in the dog weary happiness of a canine running free.  I’m like a child again as I listen with patience at the anger being spewed forth from these people.  They like to couch their anger in concern for our animals, but it’s frustration and hatred all the same.  One of our old neighbors had a petition going to rid us of our dog.  Another one stopped us in the street, stepping out in front of the car so she could berate us through the window.  We had to build an entire house just to get away from their nastiness.  And guess who gets the brunt of much of their insults because I’m around more often to yell at?

So yea, I’d like them dead sometimes.  The dogs, not the neighbors….well, sometimes the neighbors too.   Let them run and get hit, or have someone else just decide they were too cute to not take home.  I know the animal protection rights people would have a fit hearing that.  I love them, though, like part of the family, sure….but they are just animals, afterall.  Let’s not get crazy or anything.  Do we really need three dogs?  I’m betting that when these guys actually are gone, whether by car accident, dog petition, or otherwise – hopefully old age, we’ll be done.  The kids will be off in college then and we’ll be able to enjoy the peace and quiet of dogless living.

Until the next puppy shows up.

No, please God, give me strength and let us frame this writing for my bedside wall.  At least hit the high points and paste them to my mirror to see each morning.  Join another 12 step meeting.  “Hi, I’m Laurie and I’m a pupaholic.”

Let us consider God’s lesson to all of us through their simple doggy philosophy, then leave them well enough alone.

1. Eat when you’re hungry and never pass up on the goodness of friends wanting to feed you.
2.  If people don’t approve of your actions, do it in private.
3. Pee and poop without restraint.  It can give you a belly ache.
4.  Show remorse when people yell at you.
5. Enjoy the outdoors, especially when the sun is shining.
6. Enjoy the freedom of running, being who you are, and standing as an example to others who are held back.
7.  Love your family – unconditionally.
8.  Protect them with fierce loyalty, no matter what size you are.
9.  Wait til their eyes are open, but kiss them regularly.  And without abandon.
Sleep whenever there’s opportunity.



Several years ago, when my kids were toddlers, I used to go out with my girlfriends on “Lady’s Night Out” to go dancing.  To drink, look at single men and fantasize what it was like before children and husbands.  Before we had sticky fingers clinging to our legs and eyes that looked longingly at our bare breasts when we undressed at night, whether for 5 minutes in Heaven or a comforting sip of Nature’s honey.

I’d be flattered if a young man asked me for a dance or bought me a drink.  I knew, despite his possible hopes for more, that nothing would happen at the end of the night, but we were both glad to dance the game of desire and fantasy.

I remember one night when I fooled myself into thinking I was extra hot that a tall, handsome black man asked me to dance.  He held my hand as he pulled me onto the dance floor and I giddily followed along, shy as a schoolgirl in my attempts to match his easy rhythm and sway to the beat of the music.
“Your ass is so PHAT!” he hummed in my ear as I tried an artistic twirl in front of him.  This was one of those new words that initiated ones like it that teens are using today, like SICK! and BAD! in order to express glorifying descriptions of approval.  In my rational adulthood, it’s always been a wonderment to me that these descriptive words have become so backward to their actual meaning.  How in the world did that ever start?  How did PHAT, SICK, BAD mean anything that was possibly……GOOD?!  However, I do digress.

So, this black guy keeps the supposed compliment going, telling me repeatedly what a PHAT ass I have, while I become increasingly sure he’s NOT using the new twist of the word, he most assuredly is telling me my ass has one too many jiggling pounds on it.  And who knows – this being a guy of African-American persuasion, it’s equally as likely that he really DID like some extra poundage on the kaboose of his women.  But I suddenly found him rude, irritating and ugly without any sense of dancing ability and I stopped mid-song to exit the dance floor to rejoin the safety of my girlfriends and cocktail.

When I pray, most days it’s quite likely that I’ll have some words with that Supreme Being about making me thin. (despite knowing that She’s got War, Hunger, and Cancer on Her mind.  I’m selfish and narciscist sometimes.  I don’t think I’m alone in that.)  I ask that She’ll open the gates of wisdom and understanding to show me the magic key that will make diet and exercise work so that I’ll look like every other celebrity in the gossip magazines that’s over 40 with a waist that her partner can circle with his two hands.  Or even moreso, being over FIFTY, without arms that droop below like winged dinosaurs.

Now, it’s not like I’m under some disillusionment that I’m terribly overweight.  I never have been.  I think the largest size I ever wore was a 12 – and that was before kids.  Generally, I’ll hover between a size 8 and 10, even though I agonize lately that I’ve never weighed as much as I do now.  More now than I did at my heaviest in pregnancy, even though I can understand that my persistance at the gym and lifting weights has created a more solid, hard frame.  Though, who can see that, I criticize, under all these soft rolls that stare back at me in the mirror.

I understand that those celebrities are airbrushed and beautified, or that their health is endangered, as is their psyche, in their need to maintain an unhealthy skinny shape.  I can even rationalize and justify and talk myself into feeling better saying how fit and healthy I really am, how active I’m still capable of being, that I’m almost FIFTY, for God’s sake!  And yet, that inner voice still frowns on all my accomplishments, saying, “You gotta be better than the average Jane.”  Thighs that don’t rub, abs that are ripped and don’t pillow over your zipper, and arms that don’t flap in the wind.  Is it really so much to ask when you watch what you eat every day, exercise religiously and pray to God for enlightenment?  Why does it have to be so hard?!

Sometimes if I’m quiet and listen, I sense Her response, “You are my blessed child.  You are precious.”  I grow frustrated with Her and argue back, “But you don’t know!  You can’t want me to be like this!  Help me to be my best!”  And I hear Her again, “You are my beloved child.  You are precious.”  Now I’m getting angry.  “You are just biased.  You’d say that to all of us!”  And somehow in my competitive brain, this is not helpful.  I’m like the jealous sibling wanting the parent’s approval all to myself.  I sense I hear, “ You are so hard on yourself.  You need to let go.”

I envision Letting Go.  If hard work and stress brings me this, then Letting Go means they’ll be paying quarters outside the circus tent to hear the fat lady sing.  OH, she’s likely a lovely lady with a beautiful singing voice.  And she’s probably happier than all of us put together – me AND the skinny bitches in the magazines.

But hey, I agrue and stomp my foot – I’d rather be miserable and thin.  Memories of guilt and shame over diruretics, laxatives and restrictive fad diets flash through my mind.

“Guess you don’t need me, then, “ She says.  “You got that already.”

When my mom was around my age, I remember her biking nightly, swimming as many laps at the neighborhood pool that each rest period would allow, the liter bottles of Fresca on the counter.  It was never a spoken message: “Does my butt look too big in these?” or an all out lament that she felt like a cow; she was just always trying.  Now, at 75, in a state of health that is always struggling, she’s rail thin.  I think she’d rather be fatter.

If I were advising my daughter, I’d tell her she was beautiful.  She had eyes that shone from within with such beauty that would shine no matter what the scale said.  I’d tell her that my weight never fluctuated much more than 20-25 lbs, and yet I’d wasted so much time being unhappy with myself.  I’d look back on pictures of the past, remembering my feeling obese and ungainly only to discover later how pretty I looked at the time.  Is it really worth it to spend so much time and angst over it all?  Missing out on the focus of what was truly important in the world?

If I were to envision God, She’d not be all angles and perfection.  She’d be soft, with dewy skin, eyes that emblazoned love and large arms that you’d ache to crawl beneath.  And She’d be yelling at me, “Laurie, you got one PHAT body, girl!!  Go out and USE it as a blessing to others before you can’t any more!!”