Our family got our first dog around 1949. He was a majestic Irish Setter named Mike. Originally Mike belonged to Lou Reed, a local businessman and friend of my parents who lived about half a mile up the river on Riverside Drive. Once in a while Lou would bring his dog down the road to visit us. Mike loved playing with us, and soon he started coming down to our house on his own. Lou tried unsuccessfully to stop Mike’s excursions, but finally he just gave up and gave us the dog as a gift to our family.
Mike was a superb animal. He had that elegant reddish-brownish long hair of an Irish setter, muscular legs and body, and a stately bearing. He was extremely intelligent, responsive to human’s attitudes and moods, and capable of responding to a wide variety of requests and commands. He bonded with everyone in our family and was an affectionate, faithful companion. We regularly included him in our activities: swimming, hiking in the woods, touch football, the whole gamut. We took Mike along when we went tent camping at Mason Park or to Pig Island. When our family took picnic trips in our 1.5 h.p. propelled rowboat to Indian Island a half mile up the river, there wouldn’t be enough room for Mike, so he would swim behind the boat all the way there and back. He was part and parcel of our family.
My grandfather, V.A.L. Sr., wintered in Miami Beach during this time, and one year he bought and shipped to Menominee another Irish Setter named Micky. Micky was smaller, thinner, and had a more submissive disposition than Mike. Mike took the younger dog under his wing, socializing him in the ways of life on the river. Mike got upset when Micky did his business on our lawn, and he quickly taught Micky to go over to the uncut, weeded stretch of land that separated our property from our next door neighbors, the Orth’s. Micky pretty much followed Mike around and did whatever the older dog was doing. We liked Micky, but Mike was the king.
My mom was completely attached and devoted to the dogs. Once when Mike and Micky got into a rare, all-out fight, Doris jumped into the middle to break them up and suffered a nasty bite on her hand that required a hospital visit and multiple stitches. Another time Mike fell through the melting river ice in the spring. Doris ordered us all to stay in the house. We watched from the living room window seat as she crawled on her stomach out onto the ice and pulled Mike from the water back onto the ice and to safety.
Mike was a country dog, and we spent a lot of time in the forest and the fields. At least once a year he would confront a porcupine in our yard, usually in the northwest corner of the house between Vicki’s and Steven’s bedrooms. After barking for a while, Mike would eventually move in on the porcupine, and he would inevitably wind up with a snout full of quills. He would leap around and yelp hysterically while the porcupine would scurry back to the woods. My dad would pack Mike into the car, and we would rush off to Dr. Seidl’s. Dr. Seidl said extracting porcupine quills from a dog’s nose was the most unpleasant job he had to deal with as a vet.
Mike grew old as we grew up, turned gray on his face, and one day simply fell over in the front yard and died. I was home from college, and my task was to dig his grave in the field out near our driveway. I don’t think I’ve ever cried as hard as I did while digging Mike’s grave. He was a significant part of our family, and we were all better people as a result.