When my young son and even younger daughter began to hint that the family might do well to own a dog, I was apprehensive. We were already sharing our residence with two cats and living in a neighborhood long on dogs. However, for other reasons I remained cautiously open to the possibility of a third pet, provided the right kind of dog could be obtained. This last bit of information I did not convey directly to my children. As befitting a father whose duty it is to keep the ship of family on an even keel, I merely replied, ''We'll see,'' to their soft queries.
Now, I grew up with beautiful hunting dogs - pointers, setters, and beagles. Although ours were working dogs, they were pets, too. We kept them tied up during the hunting season, but the rest of the year my father allowed them free run of our farm. Throughout my summer months a dog or two followed me everywhere I went; they were my companions.
From my childhood I have retained an affection for working dogs, ones that have a purpose bred into them. Our dogs had always been special breeds: Champion was a large liver-and-white English pointer; Lucy was a black-and-white English setter; St. John was a beagle. We scorned mixed breeds; those were just dogs, spelled d-a-w-g-s and pronounced with an appropriate slur.
Hence, when my children began to work at acquiring a dog with that innocent logic that nudges away barriers with the gentleness of a feather and the persistent strength of freezing water, I resisted, but I was not averse to the idea so much as I was afraid that a choice might be made too quickly and, as a result, badly. I imagined owning kindsm of dogs - an Irish setter named Cuchulain , a Dalmatian named Trumpet, or a golden retriever named Maxwell. Fathers get carried away sometimes.
As I topped the hill on that particular spring day and began the short journey down the lane toward my home, I noticed my wife and children kneeling around a small, dirty white object in the front yard. My first impression was of a piece of discarded newspaper. I think my dreams began to fade even the moment I pulled into the driveway and my children ran to greet me, leading what appeared to be a squat amalgam of every breed of small dog known to man. The apotheosis of ''dawg.''
''She's been here all day,'' my son informed me. ''Someone must have dropped her off.'' ''She,'' he had said. ''Isn't she cute?'' my wife cooed with a satisfied smile. Suddenly, all the names I had dreamed of were like dust spilling through my fingers.
The ''her'' they had pointed to stood looking up at me with sad, brown eyes, and ''cute'' was not a word I would have used to describe her. The hair around her eyes faintly resembled fox terrier, but her head and floppy ears were more like a beagle's. Her short front legs and splayed front feet suggested basset hound. Her elongated body hinted at dachshund, while her hindquarters were as stocky and muscular as a Boston bull's. From her neck back, she was covered with hair the color and texture of a springer spaniel. What is more, she waddled when she walked, and instead of sitting with her rear legs folded neatly under her as most dogs would, she simply rolled backward on her rump and shot her rear legs straight out. I have seen pigs sit with more grace.
But enthusiasm in children is like floodwater. It has its own source and strength, and try as one might to contain it, it will rise and find any crack or chink in any wall. I did not tell them so, but I felt the pressure on the second day when she was innocently allowed in the house for a meal. That evening, when she docilely submitted to a bath and lay quietly as my wife and children dried her off, I don't think anyone, including me, believed my ''We'll sees.'' After the third day and no owner had responded to advertisements, there seemed to be no turning back. By the end of the fourth day they had named her Raindrop and all was lost.
A father's duty is never as clear-cut as I think it should be. He must be strong: yet he must learn to yield gracefully to the better judgments of his children. Raindrop has been with us for nearly a year, and has adjusted easily to our routines. She enjoys being with people, especially the children. We keep her on a leash some of the time, but she is always free to accompany the children on their rambles during the summer months. I have learned that children and dogs share an enthusiasm and energy and should be together. Raindrop is an almost inexhaustible playmate and likes to roughhouse; yet when my daughter buries her face in her hair and rolls back and forth across her, singing ''Rainy , Rainy, Rainy,'' she endures patiently.
Although Raindrop prefers the children, she enjoys jogging with me. Most of the time she trots beside me peacefully, but frequently she makes pilgrimages into the fields along the road to work knowingly through the bushes and tall grass. When the land is moist after a rain and the scents are just right, an instinct rises in her, sending an urgency through her movements. She almost becomes something else on those occasions, and when the air is just right, she will, for a moment, even square off with the grace and intensity of a full point.