10 Nov Life With the Dogs

I was running late this morning. I usually run late. Which means I run out the back door to our garage. If I’m not careful, and I’m often not careful, I will step in dog shit. Our backyard is full of it. I don’t mean to be hyperbolic when I say “full.” The yard isn’t heaped with it. But it’s plentiful, because it’s hard to keep up with our two dogs, and so, unlike Jill, I often step in it. I stepped in it this morning. When this happens, Jill laughs. Always. 

This morning I took the garden hose to the waffled sole of my shoe and still that didn’t get it all off. You can imagine my mood at a moment like that, running late and hosing down the caked sole of my shoe. It was a beautiful morning otherwise, I should add— unseasonably warm.

It’s not the dogs’ fault, of course. They do their business where they can. Some days we come home to find that one of them has dropped a dump on the kitchen floor. We keep them in the kitchen while we’re out because, well, they’re dogs and they don’t know a chair from a fire hydrant. PJ, our male dog, sometimes gets an irrepressible urge to spray things as a cat would. Once, he sprayed a pile of CDs near the stereo. We didn’t discover it for over a week (we were kind of busy).

Living with dogs is like living with rampant two-year-olds. Now, some optimists claim that dogs have the intelligence or a two-year-old, but I wonder why such an assertion should impress us. I’ve never met a two-year-old who inspired confidence in his impulse control, much less his discernment. We forget that dogs, like two-year-olds, are wild things. Wild wild wild! They have no business being indoors.

That we allow dogs to live with us, that we let them lounge on our couches and sprawl on our beds, speaks volumes about human need. We accept the love of a dog—despite its dander and slobber and stink and fleas and flatulence—because the love of a dog seems pure somehow. That’s why so many people choose a dog over a human companion. Dogs make it simple: you feed me, the dog says, and I’ll do anything for you. I’ll wear a party hat and prance in a parade. I’ll herd chickens. I’ll jump off a high dive. Anything.

That kind of devotion costs us, though. I see my neighbors out at dawn walking their dogs, no matter what the weather. I guess you get used to that. Jill and I, we just let the dogs out back. That’s why I’m always stepping in it. Jill knows that I could live without them. Cats I must have in my life, I’ll confess here and now. But dogs, they’re crazy in a way that cats will never be. Goofy crazy.

We have a basset hound and a pit bull/boxer. The pit bull suffers from separation anxiety. He hates to be tethered to anything. If you tether him to a radiator upstairs, say, while company is here, he’ll whine loudly, then yowl as if tortured. Then he’ll drop a dump on the floor. Then he’ll start chewing to shreds whatever is nearby, like the magazine rack, then the clean laundry.

The basset hound—like any hound—is nose-driven, always searching for food. She’ll eat anything. Really. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this video: What will Frieda Eat? One night she ate two 18” apple strudels from our kitchen table while we were out of the room. It took her no more than seven minutes. Another time she snatched four raw Italian sausages from the kitchen counter while our backs were turned—and did it so stealthily that we didn’t notice until I said to Jill, “What’d you do with the sausages?”

They’re funny, no two ways about it. Jill loves them to death. We used to argue about them, as parents argue over children. I’m the disciplinarian, she’s the permissive parent. I’m a big fan of Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisper, because he tells it like it is: Treat dogs as dogs. If you don’t, you will confuse them and then they’ll start acting stranger than dogs usually act.

Cesar has taught me that dogs are at their best when they are with the pack. That’s why our pit-bull goes berserk when he’s alone. In the pack, dogs know where they are and what they should do, i.e., stay with the pack and follow the leader. In our pack, dare I say, I am the leader. Still, it gives me pause when, on a dog-walk in our neighborhood, after PJ has dropped his load, I pull out a plastic bag and palm up the warm handful, which then I’m obliged to tote for blocks, like a footman carrying his master’s gold.