Reflections: Remembering Olivia, Pierre and Other Furry Family Members

Let’s be honest: Sometimes we like our pets more than we like our family members. Our pets do have the advantage of having been chosen by us, unlike our relatives. Through the years, my preferred pets have been dogs. When I was very young, my dog was hit and killed by a car. The driver never thought to stop. As we were preparing to bury my furry friend, it seemed an occasion worth wearing my Sunday shoes. In fact, that was exactly what I wore to the burial. Years later, my mother lovingly teased me about my choice of footwear to the wake. But it seemed appropriate to honor my little dog in this manner. 

When I had children of my own, I wanted them to have a dog and experience the kind of unconditional love that a little furry friend brings to a relationship. It was long before the internet, so my husband dutifully went to the library to research the subject and to find out what breed was best for young children. My detailed-oriented, Virgo-born husband pored over many publications to find which breeds were best for allergy-prone tykes, which ones shed the least, and so on and so on.

He came up with the Bichon Frise, a small dog described as gentle, playful, and affectionate.  We hadn’t seen this breed before, but on a shopping trip to Memphis, we found one for sale in the newspaper. Given that we just wanted to see what the dog looked like, there was no harm in calling the owner to ask if we could come by. Of course, the dog was so cute—what puppy isn’t? And, of course, the little dog came home with us. We named her Olivia (after Olivia Newton-John), and she quickly set about training her humans. 

Olivia got checked out by our friend and veterinarian, Dr. Ernie Harland. He pronounced her healthy and set a schedule for shots and check-ups. A few mornings later, I went into the bedroom to make up the bed when I saw part of my leather watchband sticking out from under the bed. I looked at Olivia and decided she had swallowed the actual watch itself.

I was terrified, so I immediately called Dr. Harland, never mind that it was 6:30 in the morning. Dr. Harland listened patiently as I described my findings and relayed my concerns. He chuckled and deadpanned, “I hope it’s a Timex so it can take a licking and keep on ticking.”

I was not comforted but he did assure me that he thought all would be well. I returned to the bedroom to finish making the bed and, thankfully, found the actual watch. 

Olivia and Pierre
In time, we decided it would be a good idea to have puppies and set about the task of finding a mate for Olivia. That mate would be Pierre. When the time came for the birth, we had to seek help from Dr. Harland. One of the two puppies born had problems and did not survive, even with Dr. Harland’s assistance, and sadly provided the opportunity for a different life lesson for our two young sons. 

Shortly afterward, the family that owned Pierre, father to Olivia’s pups, called to say they were moving—would we be interested in taking Pierre? I immediately said, “Yes!” but my husband took a little convincing that this was a good thing. 

We had puppies two more times, and both times Olivia chose holidays to deliver her pups.  We arrived home from fireworks in Avent Park to find Olivia under our king-size bed. We had to dismantle the bed to get her out, and I spent the night sleeping in the closet with her as she gave birth to her babies.

The next litter arrived just as all family members and visitors were sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. We were thrilled to have two more pups and decided to sell one and keep one. We were now a family of three Bichons.

Just Like Children
We all loved the dogs and enjoyed wonderful play times with them. They were like my children. Alas, too much like my children. They were not that well-behaved when I took them out to be groomed or to Dr. Harland for their check-ups. I had, in fact, told my husband I needed a larger vehicle to haul the dogs around in. He didn’t buy that for a minute, so I continued to drive them in the little white Nissan pick-up when it was time for grooming or check-ups.

On one such fall Saturday morning, I drove to Dr. Harland’s clinic (the one that was sadly decimated by the tornado) and decided it would be too much to take all three of them inside to wait until it was their turn. Since the weather was pleasant, I rolled down the window on the driver’s side (yes, I said “roll”—no automatic push buttons on this model) just a little and went inside to wait our turn.

When it was time, I walked out to the truck to fetch the dogs—Olivia, Pierre and Nigel. They were excited to see me coming to the truck and welcomed my approach by jumping up and down … and promptly locked the driver side door. No problem, I would walk around to the passenger side. All three dogs re-enacted their joyous jumping and locked the passenger door. And my keys were hanging in the ignition!

Oxford veterinarian Dr. Harland and his wife Bonnie

How could this happen? How could those furry little friends betray me with their antics? Red-faced, I walked back into the clinic and relayed to Dr. Harland that the doggies had locked me out of the truck. He chuckled and enlisted his son to accompany me back outside to try to break into the vehicle. After several attempts using a coat hanger, we were successful in snagging the keys out of the ignition and freeing my little mischievous “children.” 

It has been many years now since these precious pets crossed the Rainbow Bridge, but they are forever in our hearts. It may have something to do with a quote by Andy Rooney: “The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”


Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.

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