I was living in Manistee, Michigan, and working in radio when I first got Iggy. Despite my roommate’s preference for a little dog, I was immediately taken with the large golden retriever mix, when I first saw him at the pound; where the other dogs were excited and happy, jumping at the sides of the cages as they begged for attention, Iggy stood out as he lay sullenly upon the cement floor of his enclosure. His eyes rolled up to look at me and I caught just the faintest thump of his tail as I kneeled before him.
“He’s not very friendly,” Keith murmured as he came closer and Iggy answered with this quiet, ominous growl. “You really don’t want that dog, do you? He’s an old dog and he bites. There‘s a cute puppy, down at the end. Why don‘t you get the cute little puppy?”
Naturally, I was the misfit and was taken with this unwanted dog instantly. I was 18 years old, out on my own for the first time, and I often felt beaten and battered around. I connected with that dog. I understood why he was so wary and untrusting, how he wanted to be friendly but he was afraid to get his hopes up. I remember leaning my head in against the wire of his cage and stretching my fingers through to this strange dog as I said, “Yeah, this one. This is the one that I want.” He was so tentative as he reached out and just touched the tips of my fingers with his nose.
He came home with us that night, and I christened him Iggy Pup, a play on the name of musician, Iggy Pop, who sang “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”
Iggy and I were inseparable, right from the very start. I had a job, working at the local radio station and, as I worked, Iggy would sleep under the d.j. booth, at my feet. This was allowed and even helped the station manager to relax, somewhat, because now his young female employee wasn’t alone at the radio station in the late evenings. It was like having a bonus guard dog that they didn’t have to pay for.
Even when my roommate moved back south, I didn’t feel alone; I had Iggy. I was sure that my life couldn’t get any better; I was on my own, making lots of friends, I had my own place, and a great job. Life was perfect!
Unfortunately, life has a way of tossing a monkey wrench into things when you least expect it, and such was the case for me. The radio station that I was working at had changed hands, as small-market stations often do, and the new management had decided to change the format to a satellite feed, eliminating the need for live talent. Slowly, my friends began to trickle away as this employee or that employee was let go. Frustration began to mount, as well, with those of us who remained having to pick up the extra work of those who had left and, eventually, it was me that was called into the office and asked to sign papers of resignation. It was either that or be fired and you didn’t want that on your record; that was potentially embarrassing and could harm your future in radio, I was told. Of course, being young and inexperienced, I did as they asked and resigned.
Manistee was what you’d call a resort town; during the summer, it was bustling with life and opportunity but, come fall, things began to unwind. By the time winter hit, it was as if it had almost become a ghost town. I tried waiting tables, for a time, but everyone was desperate for money and, with Christmas fast approaching, the older waitresses pushed those with less seniority out, forcing the newer employees to go home. Some nights, I was lucky to come home with $5-10.00 in tips and the bills kept piling up. Still, I was determined. I wasn’t going to fall back and ask my mother for money. I wasn’t going to go running home. I was proud. I would find a way and make it.
The memory is still a crazy blur; I’m not even sure that I was served eviction papers, as I don’t recall ever recall seeing them. All I know is that I came home one day to find the landlord putting all my furniture out to the road. Inside, I could hear Iggy growling and barking, and I was informed that they’d had to use chairs and a broom to beat him into the back bedroom, but they were going to take him to the pound as soon as they were done. Naturally, this frightened me and all that mattered was getting my dog out of there and somewhere safe; I didn’t argue, as they let me go get Iggy. I let them do what they wanted with my stuff, simply coaxing my dog into my car and grabbing up the clothes that they had taken from my drawers and tossed into plastic bags. It was all that mattered. So long as I had my dog, everything would be okay.
Far too often, the whole homeless concept is romanticized in the movies and in books, but I was soon to learn that it was anything but romantic. Fortunately, I was luckier than many, in that I had a car to stay in and I had Iggy for both companionship and for protection. I often curled up with him on the back seat of my Chevy Impala or slept on the beach with my fingers curled into his collar. If anyone approached, he was instantly on his feet and would wake me from the dead of sleep, but our lives were far from easy. Food was especially scarce and I often had to resort to walking the streets and picking up pop cans so that I had enough money to buy a can of Spaghettios for us to split, or so we could dine on those 25 cent snack cakes.
There were many nights when we had to go to bed hungry, when the wind blew so hard off the water that it made the car rock violently, and when I wasn’t sure who looked more wild and unkempt, Iggy or I… but throughout our ordeal, Iggy was my rock to rely upon. He was my only confidante and the only person that I could trust when it seemed as though the world was against me. When everything seemed to go wrong and the world crashed down around me, Iggy was there, patiently letting me hug him in a near stranglehold as I sobbed against the ruff of his neck. He listened, patiently, with those soulful brown eyes of his, and he never passed judgment upon me.
Iggy was, above and beyond all things, my friend.
I was quite fortunate, in that I had a family that I could finally turn to. Swallowing my pride, I turned to them for help and, after some time and a bit of coaxing on both our parts, I eventually left Manistee and returned home. Sadly, while I could not keep Iggy with me, I was at least given the luxury of taking some time to find him a home that, not only he would enjoy, but that I was sure would love and enjoy him. In the end, it was the same friends that I had given my pony to, prior to my move to Manistee. A family with a big and beautiful farm, they had two little girls who absolutely fell in love with Iggy the moment they met him and, judging by all the licked faces and all the tail-wagging, the feeling was mutual. It was a sad day for me, and yet I knew this was a good thing; Iggy would not only have love, but he would have the proper veterinary care that he would need, and he would have the stability that he deserved. Stability that I, young as I was, had yet to offer him.
Iggy lived out the rest of his days on the farm and I would receive a Christmas letter or a phone call, giving me an update on how he was doing and what he got for Christmas, every year, until he passed away. There is not a doubt in my mind that he loved being there and I know that the girls adored him as much as I, myself, had. Iggy did not care if you were rich or you were poor. He didn’t care if your home was a fancy house or an old Chevy Impala. All he cared about was being what every good dog is - Man’s best friend.
There were many harsh lessons learned from my time up in the sleepy little town of Manistee, Michigan, but the most important one that I learned was how to recognize the value of a true friend. I have a dog to thank for that lesson, strange as that may sound to some. Even when you have lost everything else in the world, a true friend will give you the strength to go on. With a friend, like Iggy, you are never alone.