Doggone it

The Thinker by Rodin

There are cat people and dog people. Is it possible to be both? If it’s possible with any dog, it should be possible with Parker. Parker is our guest dog this weekend, a dog in a house that has always been for cats only, thank you very much. Only, we’re sans cats at the moment as our cat Arthur passed away last month. It’s likely we’ll be petless until we resettle in retirement next year. My daughter agreed to watch our friends’ George and Joann’s dog Parker. Parker, like most dogs, is very sociable. It seemed cruel to keep him home alone with a hostile cat. In addition, my wife is still grieving over the loss of Arthur. I thought having an animal in the house would be therapeutic for her. So we invited Parker over for the weekend.

Parker the guest dog
Parker the guest dog

Parker, as you can see, is 100% dog. He’s an English Setter Spaniel, something I would not know, as I can’t identify more than a handful of breeds. As dogs go, he’s an eighty-pound bundle of love. As I am considering a dog for companionship in retirement, a weekend with Parker seemed mutually beneficial. For me, Parker’s presence would help me figure out if I want a dog in my life. For a dog that dotes on companionship, it was good for Parker.

For if Parker can’t sell me on owning a dog, no dog can. We were impressed with Parker during a holiday party. He was the life of the party, happily going from person to person for attention. When he got a modicum less of attention than he felt he deserved he flitted over to the next person. Parker is a happy dog that excels in companionship. Most dogs do that, of course, but generally dogs fall into two types: the loyal dog that bonds with one and only one person (or with the family) and the indiscriminately affectionate dog. Parker is definitely the latter type, perhaps because he was a rescue dog. He will push his snout between your arm and waist to make sure you know he deserves your undivided attention. And his big brown eyes will stare deep into yours, lovingly, patiently, until you just kind of give him a hug, pet him and praise him. And then he will plead for more.

So there’s not much not to like about Parker. Still, for cat people this constant companionship thing is a bit overwhelming. There is devotional, like always going to church on Sundays, and then there is dog-devotional which amounts to “If I am awake I must be at your side.” Parker scampers up the stairs ahead of me. He anticipates walkies I don’t intend to give him. And particularly when I am eating something, he is totally enrapt watching me put food into my mouth and examining my plate. It’s because — and granted I am new to this dog thing — he is hoping I will share. Surely anyone who loves him as much as he thinks I do will share their plate, or at least some morsels, right? He is prepared to look at me with those bright brown eyes of his indefinitely until I give in. He’s got plenty of time and nothing else to do.

His attention mania is not necessarily bad, although it can be hard to type on the computer with that nose nudging me. However, dogs not only need love, they need services. Specifically, they need the outdoors for both #1 and #2, and they need it several times a day. And they need regular brushings. And teeth cleaning. And in Parker’s case, their ears periodically need to be nipped. And they often need their paws wiped before coming indoors and, if they were outside in the rain, you probably want to wipe their coat of most of the rain. They need nails trimmed and they need a human to vacuum up their excess fur. And most dogs need a deodorant or at least regular baths. They unfortunately smell of dog, an acquired smell perhaps, but not one I particularly welcome.

Me and Parker
Me and Parker

To this cat person, dogs in general seem kind of peculiar. With noses thousands of times more sensitive than ours, they are more smell-focused than visually-focused. Smells are their passion. Every dog’s urine must smell subtly different, because they are particularly focused on smelling fire hydrants and mailbox posts. Finding just that right spot to wee wee seems to be vital to dogs. I am guessing they are looking for an unused spot. Also vital is acknowledging the presence of other dogs, through general yipping. I’m not sure what they are saying exactly but I think it’s, “Hey, you’re a dog!” and the other dog yips back, “Hey, you are a dog too!” I suspect the conversation then gets into an extensive discussion on the virtues of the smells at their specific spots, and how the other dog better not be peeing on their spot. For humans like me walking the dog also gives us close encounters with dog excrement. I can’t say it’s interesting. I changed my daughter’s diapers because it had to be done. Spending ten years picking up dog poop doesn’t sound like a reason to own a dog.

I also suspect dog owners develop enormous biceps. A dog like Parker has quite a will, and he will lead me more than I will lead him. Parker can literally dig in his heels when necessary when he has found a particularly interesting spot to sniff. He takes great force to move. And he will happily run around me, leaving the leash wrapped around my legs. I assume dog owners develop an instinct on when to shorten or lengthen a leash.

But perhaps all the attention dogs require makes the relationship balanced. I can’t say that about the many cats we have had over the years. When they need to go I don’t escort the cat to their litter box. I do brush them from time to time, but it’s easy to forget and they don’t seem to mind. Granted, cats aren’t usually quite as much gluttons for attention as Parker, but some can be. Some prefer you leave them the hell alone, but will give you hell if you don’t feed them on time.

Dogs are not one-dimensional either, although I can see how it can seem that way. Parker is a love dog, but there are also excessively protective dogs. There are dogs that bark at the slightest provocation, and that includes when a speck of dust going past their noses. Some dogs whimper and whine, some expect you to feed them at five a.m. and raise hell if you don’t. And some dogs like to chew the legs of your furniture, the same way some cats like to shred your furniture. Paper-training puppies is reputedly a huge hassle and I imagine it must be challenging for a dog to learn how to time excretion to mornings and afternoons.

So I’m not sure about this dog thing, although I am willing to host Parker a few more times to find out for sure. It may be that I will prefer to do most of my walking alone with a podcast in my ear rather than escort a dog.

Today was yard sale day in our neighborhood. We brought Parker outside for part of it. It was clear to me that he was good for business, as dogs seem to attract dog people. People-friendly dogs like Parker are the equivalent to pushing around a baby in a baby carriage. Happy, healthy and attractive dogs like Parker are especially in demand. John, my financial adviser, is also a cat person. He was in my home consulting with me yesterday when Parker arrived for his stay. Parker went immediately to John and wedged his nose into his hand. “That’s one friendly dog,” John said, clearly impressed.

Yes he is. Which means that if I can’t get into Parker, I’ll just have to accept the sad fact that I am not a dog person. My loss, I guess.

Going to the dogs

The Thinker by Rodin

It was a brief moment today. I was driving to work through a residential neighborhood. As I often do on Tuesdays, I had to wend my way past the trash truck. I give these guys a brake and wait for them to say it’s okay to pass them. Today though the guys on the trash truck were oblivious to me. They were petting a dog.

One of the homeowners had her dog on a leash and was doing walkies along the sidewalk. This dog, like most dogs, is a friendly dog, as was evident by its wagging tail. I didn’t quite catch the breed, but it was smaller than most, and black. The guys hauling the trash, unsurprisingly I am sorry to say, were also black. There were two in the back and one in the cab. The two in the back normally gather trashcans from both sides of the street at once, and the guy in the cab drives.

Today though the crew had gone to the dogs, er, dog. Both of them had stopped the hauling and were petting the dog that was happily making their acquaintance and straining at his leash as if he wanted to sit on their nonexistent laps. The lady at the other end of the leash was laughing. The guys on the street were laughing as they petted the dog. The guy in the cab smiled through his side view mirror at the encounter. I pulled around them cautiously and made my way to work, smiling as well.

That one dog provided a lot of happiness. Moreover, like most dogs, this was a colorblind dog, both physically and metaphorically. Dogs, bless them, have no sense of social class. One friendly human is as good as another to them. Black face, white face, brown face, red face – it just doesn’t matter to them. All that matters is their sense of you and how you relate to them. Everyone in this encounter appeared to be a dog lover, at least for that moment. No one cared if a minute or two of productivity was lost. There was a friendly dog that wanted some attention and was glad to give some attention. At least until that encounter ended, social class simply did not matter. The dog had brought together people who would probably never talk to each other otherwise.

In the gospels we learn that Jesus was a man from Galilee, he was definitely human and that he was also a holy man who many believe was God in human form. Jesus of course spent some years in Galilee and Judea preaching about love and inclusiveness. It’s hard to know where Jesus was in the social class of Judea at the time. If he was truly a carpenter’s son, he could probably be considered middle class for those generally impoverished times. For a while he developed quite a following, at least according to the Gospels, but he also developed enemies. The priests in the temple did not like him because he was so different and because people called him a rabbi. The Romans put him to death. And it appears he drew the scorn of many because he hung out with losers like Mary Magdalene, a common prostitute in the eyes of many, as well as lepers, the homeless and general miscreants. Our understanding of Jesus is of course imperfect. We have only the legend of Jesus, as there is no scrap of evidence that he actually lived, and the original gospels have long ago returned to dust. But Jesus as he is depicted certainly believed in transcending class, and in universal love, and in recognizing our common humanity.

Jesus, in other words, was a man who had gone to the dogs. It would not have surprised me if his family had a dog. For if you have to learn about love and have no other guide, in most cases you can get it courtesy of the family or neighborhood mutt.

I am a cat person more than a dog person, simply because my wife introduced me to cats and I had no pets to speak of growing up except for a family parakeet. I have spent enough time though with dogs to know they are fundamentally different than cats. Cats are Republicans. They want to know what’s in it for them and it’s almost always me first. In general, they will only return affection when they first get some. They may rub at your heels for attention, but their attention tends to be fleeting. If you ignore them for a few weeks, you will probably lose any affection they had for you.

Dogs, on the other hand, are Democrats. Certainly not all dogs are friendly, and many will be affectionate only with their master. But once you have earned their trust, and it usually takes nothing more than a chew toy, snack or just a scritch of their heads, you are part of their tribe. It may be fleeting or it may be permanent. Dogs are all about finding joy in life and in getting in touch with the feelings of creatures around them. Class means nothing to them. Most of the time they will radiate love, particularly with their owner, but often with anyone in their locality. If you don’t look happy they will sense this and come over to you, and darn well try to make you happy. It’s their nature.

Christians are still waiting for the second coming of Christ. Many believe he will descend from heaven through the clouds, with his radiance pouring down across the earth. Then the saved will be saved and the damned will be damned. As for me, today’s encounter makes me think that Christ has already returned. In fact, he’s been here for a long time and you can find him nearby. Just seek out your family or neighborhood dog. Feel their love, feel their radiance, feel the cares of the world recede when you are with them or, as I saw today, see class barriers momentarily disappear. If you want to be more Christ-like, perhaps you could just imitate your mutt more. Be friendly, be open, be loving by nature and if you sense someone is hurting go over and say you want to help them feel better.

We should all go to the dogs.