By John J. Duncan Jr.

Regular readers of my column know that my wife, Vickie, and I got married last May 20th after we both had lost our previous spouses to very serious illnesses – her husband to Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and my wife to strokes and cancer.

Sean White, the minister who married Vickie and I, said this was the first time he had married a couple that had 97 years of marriage between them.

I have known Vickie and her family practically my whole life, and I knew I was sort of taking on three women because she and her sisters, Gail and Trudy, are as close as three sisters could possibly be.

Vickie has a small sign which says “To my sister, I will be there to pick you up if you fall, after I stop laughing.”

Happily, Vickie and I are more in love today than the day we got married.

I knew I had fallen in love with her. What I didn’t know was that I was also going to fall in love with her dog, Cooper.

I had my own dog, a beagle named Sparky, from when I was 6 to 17 years old. We have had several other dogs over the years, and I have always been a dog person.

Cooper is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He is definitely not the pick of the litter. Vickie got him cheaply because he is deaf, slightly cross-eyed, and has a few freckles.

But then, I am not the pick of the litter either. I have never claimed to be very handsome or good-looking.

During my first years of law practice, I was called one day and asked to be a model for the Bar Auxiliary Banquet.

I thought that was a great compliment until I went into my partner, Zane Daniel’s, office. He said: “Oh, no! You didn’t agree to do that, did you? The other lawyers hoot, jeer, and make catcalls when you come down the runway!”

I quickly figured out they had asked me because they were having such a hard time getting other lawyers to do it.

Cooper loves me just the way I am. He tries to spend every second with me. He follows me all over the house.

If I lay down on a couch to read a book, he lays down on my waist or legs. If I sit down to watch TV, he sits down beside me. He perches on an ottoman just outside the bathroom to watch me shave.

Since he can’t hear, I motion for him to come with me when I go get the mail or go for a walk around the neighborhood.

He goes into high alert if I start putting on clothes which indicates I am going someplace. He goes into a twirling dance and barks loudly if he sees that we are about to leave without him.

Then he starts to whine and cry, and since I hate to tell him “No,” Vickie lets me go out first, then she turns to tell him he can’t go.

I was not familiar with his breed, and the first time I heard about it was when I read that William F. Buckley had given one to his longtime closest friend, Charles Wallen.

Interestingly, Mr. Wallen was a minor truck executive in San Francisco who had been raised in Kyles Ford, Tennessee, near Sneedville. He and Mr. Buckley traded personal letters almost every week for 27 years until Wallen died.

One more dog story: My sister, Beverly, had very severe asthma until she was an adult. A doctor told my parents to get her a Chihuahua dog to help her.

That dog later lived with our family for 16 years and became totally attached to my mother. When the dog died in Alexandria, Virginia, my mother didn’t want to bury her there. My mother wrapped her up in soft satin cloth, put her in a train case and carried her all the way home on her lap during the plane ride back to Knoxville. The little dog was buried in our backyard on East Sunset Road in Holston Hills.

Somehow a reporter found out about this and wrote a story that ran in the Stars and Stripes military paper.

A Tennessee soldier in Vietnam wrote to my Dad and told him his best friend there was from Virginia and they always were arguing about which was the better state, Tennessee or Virginia.

He wrote that he could now tell his friend that Virginia wasn’t even fit to bury a dog in.

You can really get attached to a dog as I certainly have to my little buddy Cooper.