Recently, while browsing the Huffington Post website, I found a story about a dog who was nursing piglets. It’s funny what the mind chooses to churn over in the middle of the night, until the brain turns to butter. Hmmm, dogs wet-nursing pigs. Cosmic joke or… what?
Well, I dreamed up a theory, a possible back story. Maybe the owner of the menagerie is a truffle hunter. Using dogs to hunt for truffles works better than using pigs, because they aren’t as tempted to eat the prize immediately after finding it. Maybe the human thought pigs nurtured by a dog would take on some of the canine’s traits and get into less truffles, so to speak. Maybe the Acme gene-splicing kit hadn’t arrived in the mail yet and this was his Plan B.
I’ve mentioned such phenomena before in this column, the mind-bending thing Darwin called inter-species altruism. Some other prime examples are dogs who nurse kittens or tiger cubs, seeing-eye dogs for old elephants, and therapy dogs for stressed-out monkeys. Maybe one payoff for the dog in the latter case is that it’s good to have a friend who likes to bond by fussing over you until you’re flea-free.
Inter-species altruism is quite natural for dogs, many of whom are hard-wired to look out for cattle and sheep, not to mention their human companions. But what if you’re a small dog, say a Yorkie-Poodle Mix? What could you tend then? Well, we have a friend named Sophie who has just such a dog, and Peanut is very protective of Sophie’s backyard hens. Okay, she’s not a cattle dog, she’s a chicken dog, but her fierce devotion to her feathered friends proves she’s not a chicken-dog.
I tended the Bay Woof booth at the Bay Area Pet Fair a few weeks ago. It was fun to see all manner of dogs parading past with their owners, all manner of people. Ronald Reagan once said that if you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen them all. You sure couldn’t say the same about dogs. If you’ve seen a thousand dogs, you ain’t even scratched the surface.
It was interesting to watch this guy walking around the fair wearing a dog costume, greeting the two-legged attendees and their four-legged friends. The dogs seemed distrustful of him at first. I imagined them thinking, “Wait a minute… He looks like one of us, but he doesn’t walk the walk.” But when the guy took off his dog head and the real dogs understood that he was just another wannabe – like the Washington Redskins’ fans who call themselves the Dog Pound and dress up in dog masks, or gangsta rappers who throw around phrases like “Wuz up dawg?” – they became friendlier toward him. I wonder if dogs feel the way Irishmen do and proclaim amongst themselves: “There are only two kinds in this world, them that’s canines and them that wishes they was.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A Methodist minister and his wife decide to adopt a dog with the stipulation that the canine, too, must be Methodist. They find a home that fosters dogs and the caretaker claims to have just such a pet available. When the minister and his wife arrive to meet said canine, the foster dad puts the dog through his paces to prove his claim. He points to his library shelves and says, “Nicodemus, fetch me the Bible.” Without hesitation, the dog scans the bookshelf, pulls down the Bible with his mouth, and drops it on the floor. Then the man says, “Turn to Psalm 23.” With a deft nose and paw, the talented pooch does so.
The couple is so impressed that they adopt the dog on the spot and take him along to a Bible meeting that very evening. When they regale the congregation with the dog’s amazing abilities, one of the brethren pipes us: “Wow, can he do normal tricks, too?” The minister replies, “I don’t know, let’s see.” Turning to the dog he says, “Nicodemus, heel.”
The dog jumps up on a chair, puts his right paw on the minister’s forehead, and starts howling at the moon, at which the minister’s wife shrieks, “Oh my Lord, he’s not a Methodist dog! He’s Pentacostal!”
Until next time, dog bless us every one.
Herb Canine is one of writer/musician Tad Toomay’s many alter egos.