Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dogs: Back to Basics

I was born and raised a dog person, but in my twenties, I converted to cats and never went back for nearly three decades. That is, until 1998, when I got Bear as part of the package deal in my second marriage. What is it about “man’s best friend” that can melt even the hardest heart with a cold, wet nose?

For one thing, dogs bring you back to basics in a hot second. You have to walk them, they poop, and no matter how you maneuver, you always end up down-wind from the steaming pile. If your head is in the clouds or you’re otherwise self-involved, a dog will bring you down to earth before you can say red, the color you’ll blush as Fido displays to your dinner guests his ever-present manhood. (Make that doghood). Bodily functions and sex without repression … yes, dogs are earthy, and they keep us honest. They need more care than some babies, but it’s a small price to pay for devotion.

Dogs reflect us. There are those who swear we look like our dogs as we age. (I refuse to look like a Labrador, no matter how handsome Bear was in his prime. The parts I don’t want to resemble? Panting, the dog breath, the extra yard of tongue that didn’t fit in his mouth … and did I mention acting like a baboon and giving monkeys a bad name?)

What does your dog—or your favorite breed—say about you? I used to fantasize about having a St. Bernard, back in the days when I wanted to save the world on a white charger--or at least a potential avalanche victim from dying without a drink. I was raised with boxers—protective, patient, funny.

As I was growing up, our family pooches were Duchess and Lady, whose regal names did not match their pug faces and less-than-Miss Mannerly behavior. Dutch once flew down an open staircase to our summer (basement) kitchen and landed in the middle of the table in a platter of pasta. My sides are still splitting from watching her try to regain her footing in that slippery spaghetti.

Lady pounced on the parakeet’s cage on New Year’s Eve while my folks were celebrating with the neighbors next door. While Lady didn’t nab him (Pete was found trembling under the newspaper in his cage), the poor little guy never said, “Lady, come here” again. In fact, he didn’t talk for weeks. This was OK by me. The little twit was starting to grate on my nerves. We could have renamed him RePete, the way he was stuck in the groove of his scratched Hartz Mountain training record: Hello, hello, baby. Pretty baby, want a kiss? Smack, smack, smack? I could barely blame Lady for wanting to shut him up.

Except for these rare occasions when they contemplate murder, dogs are therapeutic. Labs make great service animals to people with visual or other physical challenges. While I could only ever image Bear as a seeing-eye dog to Mr. Magoo, he served in other ways. He was our comic relief during one of the most stressful times of our lives. I thought my beloved was nuts when he said he had to have a puppy, just as we were getting together. I had two cats! I had an inkling our merger would take place faster than he did. I was right. Poor Darrin, one of the tabby brothers, hid out for two days after his first encounter with a beast six times his size. Eventually, we had 100 percent peaceful coexistence between species.

Purrs on Earth and Good Woofs to All is great any time of year, but our pooch gave us something even better--laughter. He acted so goofy during our worst crises or stressful transitions. Integrating two long-time single people into a couple that involved total uprooting one of us was no picnic, especially carting the Bear from Texas to California. Once landed, Bear made himself at home restyling my shoes, munching my underwear for snacks, or mouthing a chewy like a stogie, perfecting his Groucho Marx impression. How could we be grouchy ourselves?

Bear brought us back to basics, all right. The basics were compulsive routine, companionship, love, and lunacy. Who could live without any one of them?

Homework: Go to a pet store or dog shelter, press your nose against the glass like you did when you were a kid, and notice who and what appeals to you in a pile of assorted pups. Make a donation to a dog rescue organization. Sing "How Much Is That Doggy in the Window." If you like the answer, take him or her home—and don’t forget to spay or neuter.

Fixing your dog won’t do a thing for his proclivities when company comes over. But it will help guarantee that there are just enough people to go around for these four-legged love teachers who worm their way into our houses and wag their way into our hearts.


Photo: Bear as Groucho Barks. See Bear as Groucho and read more of his doggone humor in a previous post, It Runs Downhill.

My Favorite Dogs with Blogs or Websites

The Pixelator (aka: Pixel), my god-dog
The Adventures of Traveling Bob
Aspen the Yorkie


PopArtDiva said...

Dear Me, what does having Pixel say about me??? She's adorable - no doubting that - and she's smarter than most of the people I know. She's also sweet and loving and very over-socialized BUT she's the most stubborn creature I've ever encountered! And I love her for all those qualities, including her Alpha stubbornness, lol.

If I had a big yard I would get a Golden Retriever too - I think they are so beautiful, those sweet eyes!

BTW, Pixel thanks you for the link to her MySpace - and she's mad at me because I still haven't done her a legitimate website yet, lol.

Eileen Williams said...

Loved your comments on (wo)man's best friend! I, too, am a dog lover but have been without one for several years. At one point, we had number of golden retrievers: a dad, mom, and a litter of seven of the most adorable and mischievous pups you could ever imagine. Talk about back to basics--our house smelled like a barnyard and they got into everything including the Christmas wrapping. They made the dog in "Marley and me" look like a piker! But, they sure were cute and I do miss those times!

Aspen the Yorkie said...

Call me slow...but my owner and I were just looking at backlinks to my site, and just now noticed the post you did with a link to us at the end. We're really sorry for not getting in touch to thank you sooner. We think it looks like the Pop Art Diva did the header on your blog, are we right? It's beautiful, she's so talented.

Nice post, too. Love the picture!


Joyce Mason said...

Hi, Aspen! Wonderful to hear from you anytime! I love looking at your cute picture. We've decided that our cat Duffy needs a period of our undivided attention, so we won't be getting another dog in the foreseeable future. So, our puppy friends mean more than ever as our vicarious pooch fix! :) Yes, Pop Art Diva designed the Hot Flashbacks masthead, new since early this year.

Hope you have a woofy wonderful holiday season!