OF STICKS AND BONES

When a man’s best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem.
– Edward Abbey

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.
– Mark Twain

When you adopt a dog, you have a lot of very good days and one very bad day
– W. Bruce Cameron

I have recently shared time, oxygen and space with three most astonishing beings. We have never dined together, well not in the traditional sense anyway. Our dietary habits as well as our appreciation of the culinary arts are at very different places on the scales of what may be considered delectable or nutritional. Also, when I use a bowl, I prefer to dig in with a spoon and not my snout. We have never taken in a movie, a play or a museum together as, with very few exceptions and due to the many still existent bigotries in this society, they are generally prohibited from entry. We experience literature differently as well. I read mine, they tend to sniff theirs. God only knows who the authors are that leave them spell bound near a bush or a fire hydrant but my best guess is that they have very non literary names like Spike, or Buster, or Lady. Speaking of authors, no less a literary giant than John Steinbeck dedicated the title of a non-fiction story of his in the later stages of his life to his ten year old standard poodle, who shared the itinerary he shared with us in his Travels with Charley.

To be clear, a phrase one of my favorite humanoids loves to use and which she has conditioned upon me, I am not a dog owner. They are not permitted in the complex where I make my home, despite the fact that I have noticed on more than one occasion that the lords of the land have made space available for a markedly over priced price to bipeds worthy of more than a little bit of suspicion. However, I do have canines in my life. I visit quite frequently to a state other than my own, in an environment much less urban than the concrete pathways which furnish my travels to and fro my meager domicile. For many specific weeks a year, for even I the watcher of the mythical Ledge must accrue an income to support the lifestyle I would like to become more accustomed to; I abandon the concrete mountains of the city for the real things. I go to this special place primarily to visit and commune with a most special lady for whom I have a most special affection as well as a most special relationship. But, adding to the specialness of this is the fact that over the years I have developed a bond with two of the dogs she so lovingly cares for. On this latest journey I also made acquaintance of the newest member of the gang, a beautiful Grand Pyrenees. She showed up unexpectedly during a March snowstorm at the uniquely situated wilderness like outpost that is the home of my lady’s longtime employer. She materialized with a heart full of love and the deepest, most trusting brown eyes I have ever seen on an animal, no matter how many legs it supported itself on. She has but three, her back right one severed by a trap of some kind according to her vet. However, she appears to not be aware of her missing limb as she scamps around like nobody’s business. And it really isn’t, anybody’s business that is, I just need to brag on her.

The other two creatures have had no trouble accepting her into the family. In fact the Border Collie has accepted her a little too well, and even though his paternal capabilities have been put to rest quite awhile ago, the signal of his rapture was also a signal that other able bodied canines with less than noble intentions of such a lady, might come pawing around. So we did the humanly correct thing and took her to the kindly doc for some female alterations. She and the Border Collie may yet safely canoodle again after she heals, even if I personally find it a mite incestuous. I have no say in the matter.

The much older and wiser Sheppard mix, working on her 16th birthday and who we rightly refer to as the Queen has granted all the rights and privileges of the manor to our newest member with nary a yip or a yap. Her serene highness is practicing the high art of serenity nowadays to such a degree that all requirements made of we mere mortals are her walks, meals, meds, a few body rubs and of course an occasional bone, which she still chews to her heart’s content. Such are the privileges of regality.

The primitive outpost is sometimes, for business sake deserted for a while and my lady must care for her charges down at the residence “in town” which is way more populated than the wilderness environs but still much less populated than the sidewalks of New York. It should also be pointed out here that two of the three amigos belong to the good lady’s employer and the Border Collie is hers. However, due to the circumstances, all three spend a considerable amount of time together. The Border Collie, similarly showed up about a decade ago, but with all four legs, though it was later discovered he had been the recipient of a small amount of buckshot. He was not much more than a puppy at the time. Anyway, he and the Queen treat each other as siblings. It is our sincere hope that he eventually ceases his incestuous yearnings for his newest ‘sister’ but we can only hope. She is after all quite beautiful and he does have exquisite taste.

Not to embarrass these fine creatures any more than is necessary but I felt it was fitting with August 26th approaching and bringing with it the celebration of National Dog Day that I take a moment myself to acknowledge these most noble of creatures who have gifted our entire species for millenniums. It might seem silly, after all some might say that “We do all the work. We feed them, bathe them when necessary, groom them, pay for their medical attention, etc, etc, etc. What do they do for us?” Well if you have to ask that, you have never owned or spent a considerable amount of time around them. They repay us with the kind of loyalty most bipeds can only imagine. They entertain us and in those moments when we believe we are unworthy of any type of affection, they show up with a wet reminder that we are wrong about that for we are certainly always worthy of love.

So if you can, and only if you can, because there is nothing worse than misjudging one’s own ability regarding dog ownership, but if you can financially, spatially and most importantly emotionally, please consider taking a new friend into your home. The availability is great and many are in need of rescue from a terrible fate. If you can’t, and there is nothing wrong with that, please consider a donation to a “no kill” shelter. If you are still unsure, stop and try and make a friend with one of the local hounds sniffing around your hood. But don’t force yourself on them; instead offer, in a non threatening manner, your scent. It is never a good idea to just randomly reach out and suddenly pet a dog you have not yet had the acquaintance of. How would you like it if a stranger just came up to you and touched you like that?

Also, and this is, pardon the pun, a pet peeve of mine, but if you get a dog, particularly if you live in an urban area, honor the walk. The walk is not just a bathroom break. It is when you and your esteemed friend bond. It is exercise time, it is sniffing time, it is a time that he or she looks forward to all day because it is his or her special time with you. Honor the walk and you will find that eventually you are benefitting from it as well. And if you have an ounce of humility you will thank them. Dog walkers serve a valuable purpose for those incapacitated or who because of a variety of other reasons need a little help from time to time ensuring that the walk happens. But if you are the type that wishes an accessory, and plan on pawning off the walk responsibility to others consistently and who only want Fido to be in your home as a security alarm, or a plaything to satisfy your kids who won’t actually care for him, (this by the way, full disclosure, was me as a small child) or as strictly the only friend to bring you comfort when you have alienated everybody else from your life, PLEASE- Restrain yourself from adoption, at least until you have reached the same level of practical and emotional maturity of your potential charge. HONOR THE WALK!

So to all the dogs I’ve known before, let me be the first to wish you a most happy National Dog Day. I hope it is a day of sweet treats, long walks, good runs, high flying Frisbees, fantastic sniffing opportunities, and most especially long luxurious belly rubs for you all deserve such things and so much more. That includes you Tigee who still won’t let me win at tug of war. And you Charlotte, the fleet canine correspondent whose beat is Indiana, formerly of Brooklyn. I’m thinking of you Veda and Odin who made Pittsburgh so fun. And you too Snowy the magnificent Tri ped as well as Tuff the Border Collie aka Prince of the River and of course Puppo the wise and elder Queen who doles out wisdom just by showing up.

I love you all and miss the ones like Humphrey, Pearl and Duke who I will never see again in this world but who will live forever in the fragrant fields of my memories. Thank you. I hope that someday, somehow I can measure up to all of you.

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