October 30, 2005


Dog of Stone - A Hankish Halloween Story

A few years ago, I was ambling through the neighborhood with Molly, responding with my usual social gusto to pee-mail, when suddenly I came upon a new dog. I was startled, the hair rising instantly on my back because this strange-looking cur was down on it's haunches and baring its fangs.

So I did what any intelligent, cautious Labrador would do under the circumstances. I gave the crazy beast a wide berth, keeping my eyes on it while walking off the sidewalk and into the street to avoid it. Molly told me not to be afraid, but humans aren't always good at reading the body language of dogs, so I kept my distance.

Over the next several weeks, I was none too eager to go down that street. Every time I did, there it was, in the same position, ready to pounce. What was it's problem? Was it protecting pups or was it just some evil Lab-loathing cur?

Then one day, Molly had had enough. I should say I've always respected the power of humans, and of Molly in particular. The human ability to control light in all situations, to harness the awesome power of the automobile, to wield the terrible vacuum cleaner, to somehow gracefully balance on two legs and manipulate almost anything with clever paws - these are things that all dogs respect or fear. But never did I hold human power in greater awe than the day Molly went up to that dreaded, growling, freakish beast and touched it on the head. The courage it took was amazing, and the outcome instantaneous: the hellhound became a thing rather than a mortal enemy.

Once she had done it, she encouraged me to come near. I did so cautiously, creeping toward the rump of the maniacal monster. I stretched my neck toward it to give it a quick sniff and then, reassured, became bolder yet. I smelled its legs and back and finally its head. Yes, she was right. It was no longer a threat. The life had certainly been drained.

So, during the hackle-raising season of Halloween, when many an eerily threatening person arrives at our doorstep, I strive to keep in mind the power of Molly. With a touch, I now know, she can transform any snarling, belligerent brute into a dog of stone. I am forewarned.

October 29, 2005


Why Some Dogs Hate Howloween

I find humans to be spooky on Halloween. They tend to turn into monsters. And I'm not just talking about the masks and capes and creepy get-ups they wear. I'm talking about the fact they want us to wear that stuff, too. I recently read that about 10% of people who have dogs dress them up in costumes for Halloween. Is there any canine on earth really panting to become Yoda Dog? Darth Vader Dog? Maybe. But here's how I feel about it.

I so hate getting dressed up that I even have a love-hate relationship with my harness. Yes, I want it to go on (and will even stand on the sofa, my front paws on the arm rest, just to make it easier to get on) because I know it means a car ride and probably a raucous good time. Still, I often back up away from when Mike or Molly tries to put it on. It's just instinct, you know? The idea of putting me in a cape or a hat or a jumpsuit makes me want to slink away behind a dogwood.

So, before you dress your dachshund up like a weiner or your terrier like a frog or your Labrador like a....well...anything other than a Labrador, I beg you to reconsider. Maybe there are some dogs that like it, but I remain skeptical, despite my trusting nature. Here's my two scents: If people really want to give their dogs a treat rather than trick on Halloween, I suggest a stick or two of Pupperoni accompanied by a heaping helping of doggy dignity.

October 23, 2005


Hope and the Human Beast

Some of the best parts of a dog's life are spent in eager anticipation. We anticipate the morning walk, the trip in the car, the special treat brought home in the doggie bag. We can barely contain ourselves when humans swing back their arms to throw a stick, or when a cat prepares to jump from a fence, or when a duck falls into the icy water after the boom of the gun. We Labs literally go tense with anticipation, our muscles coiled, our ears up, our eyes locked.

Yes, humans anticipate, too, but they're not as good at it. Or maybe they just do it differently. It's confusing. You see, humans have a kind of super-long anticipation, which they call hope. It seems to be the anticipation of things you can't see or smell or even hear. It's as if they're anticipating invisible frisbees that may or may not not be gliding in from far away. There's the "nicer house" frisbee and the "make more money" frisbee and the "better job" frisbee. There's even the "we'll be happier later" frisbee, a perennial hope that always seems to skim by just outside their reach.

I'm not even sure where hope comes from. I've heard that hope springs eternal from the human beast, or maybe it was breast. Could that be true? Could there be tiny human-hope frisbees that are shot out from little springs located inside them? Or do they somehow secrete hope in the same way that bees secrete wax?

Like I said, it's confusing. Hope strikes me as a hard thing, since human hopes are so often, as they say, dashed. Personally, I think anticipation beats hope. If you're going to hope, hope for what's most likely: that you'll get a treat after a long walk, that there'll always be cool water in the toilet bowl, that a wagging tail will elicit a human smile, and that a floppy disc thrown into the sea will float on the waves until you grasp it in your jaws. Oh, it's true that dogs can be disappointed or even, if badly treated over long periods, disillusioned. But in the course of day-to-day events, dogs tend not to dwell on hopes or losses. It's wiser to live for the now, or at least savor the sweet, anticipatory moments of the nearly, normally inevitable. Tomorrow, with luck, will be as fine as today. What more could one hope for?

October 10, 2005


Of Dogs, Blogs, and Automobiles

Freedom is the taste of speed on the tongue, of eyes half closed against wind that flaps and flutters your ears around your neck. Head out the car window, a succession of scents overwhelms you. The fried chicken restaurant, diesel fumes, rotting seaweed on the beach, the sweaty men in the road selling newspapers, gas station pumps, and dumpsters...it's endless and blending, a fast flowing, fluid landscape of smells that can be just too much for your average Labrador.

Sometimes it's best just to sit panting and waiting, getting the occasional whiff, biding your time till you sense you're nearly there, wherever it is. So, so often, you just know you're almost there. Maybe it's the bank, where dog biscuits mysteriously appear out of plastic projectiles zinging through noisy, popping tubes. Maybe it's the shore or the lake or the park (hurrah!). Maybe it's the dreaded vet, where you try to disappear behind your human. Or maybe it's Petsmart, just jam-packed with shelves of mouth-watering wonders.

Cars are the portals to other worlds, barely understood by us dogs. We willingly, even eagerly enter these alarming machines because they're our chariots to adventure, chance and companionship. It seems like car makers should have been thinking about dogs for a long time, but it's just not so. Only now has a new kind of car been invented, the "wonderful open-hearted wagon," or WOW. It has a special seat belt for bigger dogs so they can buckle up and it has built-in smaller crates for littler dogs.

As for me, I don't know if I need one or not. Mike and Molly already buckle me up in the backseat, tethering my harness to the seatbelt with some kind of strap. Oh, I know I look pretty geeky and sheltered compared to those daredevil dogs hanging loose in the back of pickup truck beds, eyeballing me in pity and disdain. Those dogs are just too cool for training school. But then Mike stops the car short, jerking me forward, and I'm suddenly glad to be wearing a seatbelt. I worry about those other Labs who could crack their craniums on the cabs of trucks. Truth be told, I wouldn't trade spots with them for a bank vault of dog biscuits.

October 01, 2005


Dogs at Worship

Dogs go glum when people dress up. That's because dogs are plenty smart enough to know that their people don't generally wing frisbees or pick up dog poop while they're wearing sports jackets or pantyhose.

So Sunday mornings can be a bit of a downer for your average dog. It's nothing against religion, mind you. It's just that dogs and dogma don't usually mix. If it's true that all dogs go to heaven, it's not due to their church attendance records.

It might be different if they had the chance. Some canines seem naturally devout. I recently read, for example, about a dog who has become a budding Buddhist acolyte. After wandering astray for most of his young life, the dog called Hama has become a regular at a South Korean monastery. "The dog bows just like a monk," said a college student who'd been visiting the Buljang Temple on Chindo island specifically to gaze upon the dog. Some of the monks wonder what Hama may have been in a previous life.

But I'm not sure you need to believe in reincarnation to explain devout dogs. If there's one thing we dogs are good at, it's following the lead of humans. I think a lot of us can naturally tap into the feelings people have at worship. So I was happy to hear some are getting a chance to prove it. There's an outreach church of the Apopka Assembly in Florida that is open to dogs of all faiths. "A few dogs sing with us," according to Pastor Dee Renda, who brings her Collie Maggie to the Hymns and Hounds church service. "I've never had a fight or trouble with the dogs."

Personally, I've not been inside a house of worship, but I am a regular at a local church with a lake on its grounds. Mike says it's really just a retention pond, but it's a beaut. There are two fountains in the middle, which has something to do with keeping fish healthy, I guess. And that's good because it means there are ducks and coots and moorhen galore. There are tall, regal egrets and odd-looking wood storks and those swimmy, snaky anhinga with their wide, spooky wings spread into the wind. I glory in them all but have few reservations about hounding them off the lake bank. Many an egret has cursedly cawed my name as it rose slowly over the little lake.

I don't know if the way in which the sun shines on the pond is related to the way people feel about God. I think it might be, though, because the church has built green benches beside it for the occasional congregationist to just sit and watch the water. Maybe this in itself is a kind of devotion. If so, it's one in which even your average, ambling church-ignorant Labrador can participate with an open heart.

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