The rainy season can be tough on dogs and dedicated dog watchers such as myself. We sit inside, steaming up the front windows with our eager breath, waiting for a break in the weather.
During one of those breaks recently, I accompanied a friend to Golden Gate Fields. While he watched the ponies on the big screens, I wandered down to the little cove below the parking lot and watched a guy throw a tennis ball out into the chilly water for his young Basset Hound to fetch.
The hound was in heaven, paddling far out and back in, dropping the ball at the man’s feet and baying with such ardor for another go that his muzzle jabbed at the sky and his front paws left the ground with every outburst. He was pushing the legal limit for cuteness.
Such moments have helped me survive many a soggy winter.
Juvenile fiction writer Gary Paulsen also knows the joys and epiphanies of dog-watching. One winter, he was in Alaska training a dog team for the Idatarod, the famous Arctic sled dog race. To avoid territorial disputes, sled dogs out of harness are often staked to the ground on long chains, giving them a wide circle in which to roam, just beyond physical contact with the other dogs. There they are left to rest, gnawing on large bones.
One day, Paulsen was observing the behavior of two dogs whose roaming circles were next to each other’s. One was Olaf, a big, good-natured but dim-witted dog; the other was Columbia, an aloof and reflective wolf-like animal with a high degree of natural intelligence. Paulsen watched Columbia push his bone toward Olaf, who strained with all his might to reach it. Columbia situated the bone so that Olaf could just barely touch it with one paw, then he backed off to sit and chuckle at his teammate, who was going crazy with craving. Paulsen swears he heard Columbia chortling: “heh, heh, heh.” I don’t doubt it; research suggests that dogs do laugh.
The cunning and mental complexity required to think up, execute, and enjoy this joke convinced Paulsen that animals have souls. Before this experience, he had been an avid trapper. Never again.
Does a sense of humor really indicate the possession of a soul? Maybe. I know that people with soul generally have a sense of humor – especially about themselves. And as a humorist once said, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re leaving the job for someone else.” So ask not at whom the dog laughs – he laughs at you.
As I’ve mentioned before, I think transforming our pets into fuzzy little people via haute (dog) couture and facelifts may be carrying the idea of “human potential” a bit far. But … as long as we’re at it, how about this idea for Valentine’s Day? Remember those cheesy little cards with the perforated edges we used to give to all our fifth-grade classmates? You know, those Valentines with cutesy cartoon images of, say, teddy bears accompanied by cheap puns like “My life would be un-bear-able without you”?
Well, in that quaint spirit, and in honor of this season of hearts and flowers, I offer up a top five list: Endearments Your Dogs Would Send to Their Puppy Lovers.
- You make me shake, rattle, and roll over.
- You’re so fetching, I wanna play ball.
- Can I interest you in some heavy petting?
- Let me be you’re boy Toy Poodle.
- You’re heaven-scent!
Herb Canine is one of writer/musician Tad Toomay’s many alter egos. Get acquainted with the others at www.tadtoomay.com.