Thursday, January 8, 2015

Dog Days

In my sub-teenage Missouri youth, I didn't have a dog at first. So I buddied other people's pets, especially if they had a habit of getting loose. That's how I met Rod.

This purebred beagle had a bark useful as a homing device. "Byrrr! Byrrr!" reverberated across the neighborhood when he made his way onto to his master's back porch deck and cut loose. Rod's white-tipped tail whipped back and forth in a crazy metronome. When he escaped, he would explore the neighborhood, nose working along every fence line with a soft snorting analogous to a muffled teletype.

His owner, Mr. Olsen, didn't mind me coming over more than few times after he caught up with his pup. So observed Rod interacting with his big-brother German Shepherd and chomping out of his sibling's dish.

"Rod," his owner chuckled, "you eat Puppy Chow!" That would make sense, if Rod thought he was a puppy.

I also knew Taffy, a toy poodle up the street. Taffy wouldn't get loose like Rod, but she had a soft white neatly-trimmed coat, and she could roll around in the grass and make me laugh. In a bit of convergence I wished I hadn't been around to witness, Mr. Olsen's German Shepherd got loose and bit Taffy one evening, drawing blood and forcing a confrontation between neighbors.

"Your dog just chewed up my itsy-bitsy poodle," Taffy's owner complained in the backyard, firmly but calmly as another member of the family examined Taffy inside. I didn't hear Mr. Olsen's response, but he stayed cool and perhaps even apologetic. Taffy came through all right after a bit of cleaning up. I don't think she even needed to see a vet.

Befriending other people's dogs came with several advantages. I didn't have to pick up dog poop. Laugh at it, yes, but not pick it up. I could play with them on my own schedule, not theirs, and break off the relationship whenever I wanted -- no long-term commitments.

I had other dog acquaintances: Jody the Shepherd across the street, Elrod down the block (who a neighbor girl and I lured back to his home with a trail of treats after he got loose), Bandit next door and Missy and Champ through my backyard fence.

All of this interaction with dogs means eventual interaction with their owners, and the Queen Mother used to spank or chew on my royal rear for getting too chummy with people and animals she considered strangers. This, remember, was in a different time -- the late 1970's and early 1980's -- before we invented sex offender notifications, locked on to serial perverts or lived in fear of mass child murderers. Fortunately for all of us, I lived in a middle-class neighborhood free of sleeper-cell criminal scum.

When I finally earned a family dog after so many chores and gold stars on a bedroom chart, all those extracurricular activities ceased. Now I could let Cinnamon drag me around the block a few times and catch my breath while she paused to chew up grass clippings and sniff the mailboxes. Oh my dog...

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