Annie

1998

Technically, Annie is a miniature dachshund. Actually, she is more squirm than dog, a brown tube of frenetic energy, bouncing more than walking, seemingly tumbling over her own ears, but righting herself instantly and charging onward, her owner Carla lurching behind at the end of the leash calling "Hey, I've got the thumbs! I'm in charge!"

I don't think Annie has quite got the "in charge" concept. She's only five or six months old, and the whole world is a fascinating place, full of big friendly people (mostly naked people, but Annie doesn't care), full of butterflies and buzzing bees, pretty flowers, and interesting noises that perk up those floppy ears. The woman at the other end of the leash is her loving caretaker, sure, but look! There's a dandelion over there! Let's go sniff it, or better yet, pounce on it, and see what happens! And off she goes, an animated beanie baby out to discover the world.

Or at least that part of the world bounded by the confines of our nudist camp. Her owners, Bob and Carla, are our right hand neighbors here at Berkshire Vista. They have been residents of the Ghetto (the lower and noisier section of BVR) "forever", and nudists for decades. Their trailer is both large and old, surrounded by flowers and herbs, decorated with oil lanterns and flashing Xmas lights. Ceramic figurines of dachshunds command a wooden ledge, lighted fish swim in two trees that flank their deck, more flashing lights ascend a TV antenna. Their motor scooter usually sits on the deck, and often Bob's big Harley is parked nearby. If this all sounds garish or tacky, it is not. What it is is summer camp. and it is perfect summer camp, tasteful, homey, comfortable and inviting.

Carla is a nurse, so naturally she is the source of temporary medical advice: what to do for poison ivy, does she think these pains are serious, is this cut going to need stitches? And if Carla is the source of advice, then Bob is the Ghetto's source for tools: no matter what it is, Bob probably has it with him, and if he doesn't, he can surely bring it next week.

Bob is also a source of stories. Old Ghetto stories, fireman stories, people stories. Sad stories, funny stories, wonderful stories. Every night by the fire, you can hear Bob spinning tales of other fires, other weekends, friends missed, incredible escapades, wild people, narrow escapes, hilarious antics. Even when I've heard a story more than once, I love to hear him tell it again. The friend who brought his new girlfriend in late at night, so that she never knew she was at a nudist camp until she opened their trailer door in the morning. The infamous pig roast that erupted into a mountain of fat-fueled flames. Trying to get an inebriated friend to his own wedding. And more. It's worth staying up late to hear these tales.

Last year, Bob and Carla had their trailer up for sale. No, of course they were not leaving the Ghetto. But they had bought a new motor home, with the intention of traveling part of the year, roaming nudists, but maintaining a home base at the same old site. There was no Annie then, but they did have two older dogs, dachshunds also. Every weekend morning, those two would explode from their camper, making a frenzied charge into the Ghetto, with Bob or Carla (usually Carla) following behind, sleepily clutching a plastic scoop and stifling yawns.

Those dogs were their constant companions. Throughout the day, they'd sit on the deck with them, and at night would often bring them to the fire, holding them in their arms. They would ride in the cab of their truck with their owners; I wouldn't have been a bit surprised if Bob had one of them on his scooter! Naturally, Carla and Bob took them along on their new motor home's maiden trip to Florida. The dogs rode right up front, one usually under the seat behind Bob's legs, the other preferring to move from lap to lap as the highway miles zipped past.

It is very hard to write the rest of this story.

Even those of us who don't have animals can see the bonds that form between people and their pets. Sometimes we say it's like having children, and it is, but it is also more, for these animals are also our friends; very close, very special friends.

For the trip back from Florida, Carla flew on ahead. Bob is retired, but Carla had to get to work. Bob kept the dogs for company.

Somewhere on Route 95 in North Carolina, traffic slowed and stopped ahead. Bob put his foot on the brakes, but there was nothing there. He does not know whether the brakes failed or the road had clay dust that a light rain had turned to super-slick danger. It doesn't matter: the motor home did not slow down.

Bob remembers tossing his dog from his lap, hoping to save her from being crushed by the steering wheel. He first hit the back of a truck, then bounced off into a car. The front of the motor home buckled in around him, crushing his left leg and arm, and pinning him in so that only the Jaws of Life could extract him.

The dogs, of course, were killed. Bob himself was lucky to survive, and as he puts it, part of North Carolina will be with him forever in the form of a steel pin in his leg.

Carla was reached at home, but didn't get full information on his condition and had to fly down not knowing for sure how badly he was injured. Frustratingly, she was delayed for hours trying to get a connecting flight. Most of us had been notified by email of the accident, and Bob says that the phone rang constantly during the week or so he lay in bed before being transferred back home. Months later, Bob still uses a cane. The leg is getting better, but it is slow.

The motor home and its contents were destroyed. The insurance company declared it totaled. I doubt that either Bob or Carla cared at all about any of their losses except, of course, for their dogs. When animals have been such a major part of your lives for so many years, everything reminds you of them. They show up in pictures, in reminiscenses, in dreams. Their toys sit silent, their food dishes empty, and throwing those things out is as hard as keeping them. Sometimes your eyes fool you, and you see them in a favorite spot, and your heart leaps for a cruel second, but you know there is really nothing there.

It was Bob who found Annie in a pet shop and brought her home. She doesn't replace the other dogs; you cannot replace lost friends. No, Annie is just Annie, nudist dog, new life frantically squirming upward to lick the face of any Ghetto resident who will pick her up. As I wrote the first draft of this, Annie sat in a large cage on Bob and Carla's deck, studiously ignoring the leather chew bones she had been given, preferring instead the rug that lines her floor. Her owners were across the Ghetto, visiting friends, and now and then she'd drop the rug and stare wistfully, tail wagging, tiny brown paws tucked under a not quite still body, waiting for their return. When they do return, and bring her out of the cage, she bounces about in half circles, turning this way and that, ears flying, tail quivering frantically.

Annie is a great neighbor to have. Bob and Carla are great neighbors, too, but neither of them is a tenth as cute.

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