Cal by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Everyone knows who man’s best friend is. In my case, it’s Cal, a vizsla named for—you guessed it!—Cal Ripken, Jr. But here’s the spoiler alert: Cal belongs to friends who live in Lewes. The good news is that I get Cal custody one week a year when his extended human family heads down to the Outer Banks for vacation. This week is my Cal week.

Cal came into my life six years ago. His human mom wasn’t too sure about the decision to adopt; she already had two human male puppies and a big human dog to care for and she would be the first to admit that she wasn’t a natural-born “dog person.” Truth be told, she was even a little afraid of souls with four legs. But the wishes of the kids prevailed and if Cal didn’t have her at hello, it didn’t take long for him to win her human heart. My job, as a neighbor, friend, and admitted vizsla lover, was to babysit, walk, feed, and clean up when Cal’s human family weren’t available. It was a labor of love at first sight.

Now that we humans have moved apart, Cal comes on an annual visit. We hang out, go for walks out at Turner’s Creek, or chase tennis balls off the dock. We even sleep together thanks to my accommodating wife who enjoys having Cal as a house guest as much as i do. Well, almost as much as I do.

Like all vizslas, Cal likes to be velcroed to his caregiver (in this case, me) all the time; ‘underfoot’ is an understatement. But he is also a terrific athlete. He can run forever and he even surfs; in fact, there’s a t-shirt with his image and “Surf Like Cal” on sale down at the beach if you’re interested. Charming as he is, he’s also a bit of a goofball who gets obsessed with tennis balls and hates thunder storms. He likes to take over the couch when I’m watching tv. Vizslas are short-haired pointers, and Cal, true to his breed’s ethnicity, speaks fluent Hungarian which admittedly limits our conversation. However, he’s a good mind-reader which facilitates our discussions about what to eat for dinner. He’s a dainty eater who prefers goulash to kibble, but he’s not nearly as discriminating as my wife whose palette leaves me flabbergasted about notes in wine I never knew existed. But that’s another story.

Cal is a good house guest and I honestly believe he is a happy visitor. That said, I don’t delude myself into thinking that he doesn’t dream of his absent family. I lead a relatively quiet life which must surely seem strange to a dog who lives with two teenage boys and parents who are always on the go. By the end of our week together, I sense that one of us is ready to get back to the way things were. If a dog year is equivalent to seven human ones, then a week must seem like a pretty long time to Cal. Sometimes he looks at me wistfully as if to say, “You’re nice and all and I love you but I miss them.” I don’t take it personally; I miss them, too.

On Sunday, after Cal is back on his favorite chair with his family in Lewes, my house seems even smaller than it is. There’s an indentation on the couch. Tennis balls turn up in odd locations. All the goulash is gone. I glance at the calendar: only 51 more weeks until my next Cal visit.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

Letters to Editor

  1. Garth Wyncoll says:

    Lovely tribute to Cal, however, I am surprised your first love and mine (dog love that is) was not mentioned – the King “nKozi”. He was the original, the beloved, the sensitive, the cherished. Cheers to all Viszla owners, the ones who are owned.

    • Mr. Wyncoll is spot on. NKozi was and always will be the king in our hearts. He was the wisest of old souls and fortunately passed on all his wisdom to Cal.

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