Understanding Dog People

I never understood individuals whom I call “dog people.” You know the ones. They include pictures of their pets in Christmas cards, their cars sport bumper stickers asserting that their Pomeranian is smarter than your honor student and their pet supply store spending exceeds the gross domestic product of many developing nations.

No, I did not understand dog people. I considered them less evolved, somewhat uncultured and weird. Then I went through an epiphany of sorts: I got a dog. Now I understand those people perfectly. In fact, I am becoming one of them.

Neither my wife nor I had any pets as children. Well, I did have a little brother, but I don’t think that counts. Our own children were petless too, unless you count a couple of brief and unsuccessful attempts with goldfish.

Finally, when my kids were into their teenage years, we were persuaded to get them a dog. (This was when I entertained myself with the delusional belief that teens were responsible humans; I mean what was I thinking? How can you expect teenagers to clean up after a pet? One look into a teen’s bedroom shows a lack of necessary skills.)

We had friends whose female dog had a penchant for late-night carousing. Apparently one evening she could not resist the charms of the canine Casanova next door. Soon, she had her first litter. Only a few of the puppies survived, including a tiny black, white and brown fellow sporting a racing stripe on his behind. At the ripe old age of eight weeks, Rusty became ours.

Nervousness, fright, cautious whimpers and pee were everywhere. Then the puppy arrived. Officially a mutt, he’s called a jackabee. Dog lovers tell me it means he’s part Jack Russell terrier and part beagle. My thinking is that it mixes the stubbornness of a jackass with the flightiness of a bumblebee.  He maybe half of each breed, but he is 100 percent hyper with springs for legs and a nose for everything.

The hound in him has ensured that our yard is free from all manner of wildlife including rabbits and squirrels. He regularly sniffs out moles under the surface, then digs with the tenacity of a reporter from 60 Minutes and the accuracy of an earthquake prediction. The result? My backyard has more holes than OJ’s alibi. I don’t understand how I cannot walk through the yard without turning an ankle in one of his holes, yet he can run through the grass and miss every one. Must be some sort of Rover Radar.

Rusty was to be our kids’ dog. He became mine. The whole family loves him, but he and I have a very special relationship — one of mutual understanding. He has taught me a lot. For example, a forlorn look at my wife probably will lead to a treat from her plate or at least a rub on the belly. From Rusty I learned that naps are better when you’re curled up against someone you love and how important it is to be excited and enthusiastic when you meet someone new. As the bumper sticker says, “Wag more, bark less.”

Over the years, he’s eaten socks, passed a guitar pick (for some reason, my son didn’t want it back) and turned our previous sofa into a giant chew toy. He drags me on walks and thinks we bought a king size bed just for him. Regardless, we love him. He’s part of the family, and a quite handsome one. I’m sure you’ll agree when you see his picture in our Christmas cards.

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