We Couldn’t Call Her “IT”

Tail: UP Ears: UP Prepare for take-off!

Several of you have been curious about where the name GANDY came from, especially since it is nothing quite so odd as the hemlock tree’s genus that was the name of our recently-departed pup, Tsuga.

I’ll take the lazy way out, and paste in a few paragraphs from “the book” that, at this rate, will be completed in less than a decade, with any luck:

Before we had pets in our married life, I had plant in college–the first plant I ever thought of as my own. I brought it home from the campus greenhouse as a baby, in a cup, and made a new place for it in a pot and called it Percy Plant. That name set it apart from every other bit of greenery, at least in my mind, and gave Percy and me the potential for a relationship. But the plant never once responded to its name–which is the reason most people don’t bother giving names to shrubbery. We might name our goldfish, too, but this is solely for our need to nurture, and though you might swear otherwise, it is only coincidence when you call its name and it turns in its bowl to face you and blow a bubble. Sorry. But dogs know who they are by the names we give them. So choosing a name for a dog is a serious matter.

Let me waffle on this assertion here. Dogs may or may not associate their names with a kind of identity in the way primates do. “Fine animal gorilla” signs, Koko, in American Language, pointing to herself. Our dogs, on the other hand, even if they had hands, likely would not point to themselves when you asked for identification. They recognize that the sound of their name signifies something good or fun might happen to them in particular, or in other tones, that there’s a scowl and disapproval coming their way. The point is, we grow over months and years to share the world with that certain dod in unique ways, a creature whose name, at least in our minds, is WHO they grow to be. The name we give them is the form by which we hold their memories with a treasured tenacity we do not hold for withered plants or flushed goldfish….

God gave names to all the animals, while we get off easy. Our only obligation–and it is not a trivial one–is to give names to our kids and to our pets. It is a profound responsibility, and it’s time to get my head in the name-game: we may come home with a new puppy as early as this afternoon. We can’t call it IT or just “the dog.” How do we divine a scent from the ethers that carries to us a name that will fit this particular animal who will become such a part of our lives for–well, I’ve learned you can’t expect with certainty any number of years you’ll have with a new puppy. But one can hope, and hope needs a name.

– – – – – – – – – – –

Gander: male goose; to take a quick glance at; a silly person

“If we get another dog” I told Ann on December 6–the day after Tsuga suddenly left us–maybe we should call him Gander of Goose Creek” I said in half jest. But I sort of liked it. Gander. Rhymes with meander. The hard G holds something of Tsuga’s name.

Then, much to our surprise, we brought home a girl dog–the first ever in our pet-owner’s career (I think Percy went both ways.)

And we held on to Gander but feminized it to Gandy. Rhymes with Dandy. Like Candy, but with teeth. And she is a sweetie. At least she has her moments.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. WELL! Since you explain it that way, now it makes perfect sense.

    Gandy is one beautiful creature Fred. With that name, there is no great expectations. She certainly isn’t likely to learn how to fly, though she may become a very proficient swimmer.

    Did I mention, with regards to our own new puppy “Chewie,” that something you wrote in one of your essays after Tsunga’s departure was the source for a great deal of encouragement for my wife and I?

    I hadn’t imagined that someone with your experience raising dogs could ever entertain the thought of returning one to the breeder. My wife and I have discussed such an action with regards to Chewie. I thought about how Tsunga turned out with all your patience and effort applied and told myself there was no reason the same could not be true in Chewie’s case. YES! She is a real handful and a challenge for my short temper and patience level. I’ve almost broken down under the strain several times. Every time I sit and gaze at all the scars and the currently healing wounds on my hands and arms inflicted by Chewie’s teeth and claws, it’s all I can do to remain positive. We struggle on and wait to read more positive reports from you concerning Gandy’s progress and images of her sure to come growth spurts. Chewy is now three or four times the size and weight she was when we brought her home. Lord! I hope she stops growing soon. Hang in there friend. I know I’m going to do my best to accomplish he same feat. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  2. I once had a dog named Tigger, which is a play on tiger, which of course is in the cat family. The name came from the bouncing, happy, full of himself animated character in the Winnie the Pooh stories, and fit the dog’s personality to a T as they say. Anyway, don’t know how this relates to Gandy except that other folks have named their dogs after other species and for good reason. Merry Christmas to all on Goose Creek.