Maybe it began with Duke, the small white fox terrier my parents bought about the time I was a year old. Or maybe it began before that, when nature zipped together two sets of genes, one from Mom and one from Dad, thereby creating me.
Beats me. I have no idea where my love of animals came from. All I know is that it's always been a central part of my life.
The interesting thing about it is that animals sense how you feel, and sometimes that leads to things that are just plain fun. Like the afternoon I was on Tachikawa Air Base in Japan sitting on a sofa in base housing and admiring a very large German shepherd.
"Her name is Lightning," the major's wife had told me before she headed for the kitchen to make tea, visibly annoyed that I had shown up at a time when the major wasn't there.
Wasn't my fault. He called me at my office, said he had an "offer" for me, and asked me to meet him in his quarters because the subject he wanted to discuss was "hush-hush."
All I knew about him was that he had been there on Tachi for three years and was neither popular nor counted among the brightest of the bright, but I was still intrigued by his "offer."
Anyway, Lightning lay with one very large paw partly covering a fawn colored snout as she lazed on the carpet beside the coffee table. She looked very contented, though she kept one eye open as dogs will do when strange humans are about.
Because I'd been on Tachi for over a year, and dogs are rare on overseas bases, Lightning looked like someone I definitely wanted to get to know.
So when the major's wife left, I slid off the sofa, crawled around the coffee table, sprawled out on my belly with my human nose two feet from Lightning's moist dark one and stuck out a hand for her to sniff, which she did. Then began the usual dumb chatter we humans keep up when we meet animals, who no doubt think that we may not be too bright, but we're probably harmless.
Five minutes later, Lightning and I were fast becoming good friends. I was now sitting on the carpet with my back against the coffee table while Lightning lay sprawled out with her head in my lap and one very large, almost wolf-sized, paw lying in the palm of my left hand as I used my right hand to scratch that hard-to-get-at spot in the center of her large fuzzy head.
"Oh, my God!" I heard over my shoulder, accompanied by the sound of expensive china rattling on a tray.
Curious about all the commotion, I looked up and saw a female jaw hanging two inches off the carpeting.
"D-Don't move," the major's wife said, her face the color of month-old kindergarten paste.
"D-Don't move," she repeated. "And d-don't say anything."
I looked around the room. "Are you talking to me?"
"Th-Th-The dog ..."
She set her tray down with a clatter of china. "Just get up as slowly as you can. So that she doesn't ..."
"She? You mean Lightning?"
"Oh, my God. Don't use her name. It'll set her off."
Well, after a bit of confusion, during which Lightning and I continued to get to know each other, I found out that "the dog" would "never allow herself to be touched" and "absolutely never" made friends with strangers.
Also that she was soon to be turned over to a K-9 unit.
If you're a dog lover, you may have already guessed the cause of the problem.
Before I left that day, having turned down the major's offer of becoming a stoolie in an office where he thought people were playing nickel and dime poker, I asked a question.
"You've been stationed here for three years, Major?
"Yes," he said, making it clear it was none of my business.
"Does Lightning ever see any other dogs?"
"See any other dogs?"
Three years in solitary with a pair of two-legged jailers who, I heard later, screamed at each other half the time, and undoubtedly fed the prisoner nothing but the same dry, mostly vegetable-based stuff every day for three years.
I'd be a little cranky too.
Lightning, by the way, did very well in her job as a member of our K-9 unit.
Only bit bad guys and officers.
Three years later in Pakistan, I had just finished eating a nice dinner at the home of my boss, a transport pilot who was universally admired so I'll tell you his name: Colonel John Newton Booth (we always used his middle name in correspondence to avoid the obvious smart aleck remarks).
Sitting in the living room with his wife and mine, I noticed a cat leash lying on the carpet and traced it with my eyes to a small, thin Siamese hiding under the bottom shelf of an end table.
When I asked the obvious question, Colonel Booth told me that he had inherited the cat from an officer who had shipped home.
"None of us can get near him," he added, "us" meaning him, his wife, and his teenage daughter.
Well, the usual "get a sniff of my hand" routine, together with an "I'm lying down here on my belly to get acquainted if you're interested, but I won't insist, so you can relax" attitude worked well enough to get the collar off, and though I didn't have time enough to get one dead-scared puss out of his hiding place and on my lap where he belonged, he did well in his new home.
There have been several such incidents in my life, but the one that most amazed me involved the squirrel that gets up in my pines out front and trashes up the driveway by eating pine nuts and tossing the hulls down for me to pick up.
In an effort to convince her that maybe she'd do better with a handout, I talked my way up to within 10 feet of her and was totally amazed to see her run up, take a sniff of my left Reebok, scurry back, and sit there waiting to see what I would do next.
What I would do next was go inside, get a few whole wheat crackers, come back out, put them on the ground, back up, and watch her eat, and or tuck away, my peace offerings.
We're on the path to kinda, sorta becoming buddies, but we're not going to get too friendly because I don't want her to start trusting humans.
I don't, so why should she?