February 28, 2006


Big Dog, Little Dog (Part II)

It's said that seeing one's doppelganger is bad luck, and I hope I never find out. After all, my own mini-dachshund doppelganger can be tough enough.

When Lucy Lou was past puppyhood and into her adolescence, she came to stay with us for a month as Grandma recovered from surgery. Since she was no long the crazed lip-biter of her puppyhood, I had no real qualms. I mainly tried to ignore her.

But that turned out to be easier said than done. Lucy was intent, it seemed, on shadowing me. Case in point: back then, when Molly asked me if I wanted to go for a walk, I used to jump up on the futon sofa and put my forepaws on the armrest. The idea was to make it easier for Molly to put on my harness, which I wear for all car rides. But only a few days after Lucy arrived in our house, she got the message that this was the way to lobby and prepare for a walk, so she'd jump up and stand next right next to me, or sometimes even come up underneath and stand with with her head up in my chest. For some reason, Molly just adored this.

By and by, Lucy got her a harness of her own. So we'd both be strapped into our respective seatbelts in the backseat, me looking down at her and feeling both uncomfortable (it's funny how much space a little dog can take up) and mildly self-conscious. You know, you don't always get a clear idea of yourself until someone else starts imitating you. I suppose that's why parenting tends to make people humbler: they realize that, despite being flawed and ridiculous, they are suddenly the focus of impressionable wee folk who actually look up to them for guidance. This a tough position to be in for anyone, man or beast.

But I have gotten used to it. These days, when I dash through the sand and into the surf after my floppy disc, Lucy Lou dashes right along side me, barking madly, though she usually stops at the water's edge. It's as if she's heralding me. Once in a while, she forgets herself and dashes partway into the water herself, which is pretty courageous, considering that she's not at all a fan of the ocean.

I've been considering making her an honorary Lab. She often pees in some of the same spots I do (though by following too closely, she has once or twice gotten more than she bargained for), makes the same sniffs, eyeballs the same neighborhood cats. And when I'm crunching down my dry food, she bides her time beneath me, waiting for the food to fall from my lips so she can scoop up her fair share. It is a very doggish intimacy that makes Molly a little squeamish but now somehow seems natural to Lucy and me.

I've decided that Lucy is not really my shadow self or a cartoonish kind of mini me. She's just an enthusiast, a little canine cuz looking for companionship while separated from Grandma. Even though I get vaguely annoyed at having to share my dinner plates with her, I don't really mind deep down. Despite her high-pitched barks, her nervousness punctuated by bouts of nerviness, her squirminess and lip-licking and lap-hogging ways -- despite all this and much more -- Lucy Lou has a great heart, one so big and generous that she's given part of it to our own family. And we've given part of our hearts to her. Maybe in the end this is how everyone in the world survives -- by gratefully taking heart from one another.

February 27, 2006


Big Dog, Little Dog (The Photos)

February 23, 2006


The Hankenberg Principle

Somewhere around 5 o'clock every day, I go into Mike's office. I don't do anything special, mind you, just stand there and observe. Now, a lot of homo sapiens don't truly fully appreciate the power of the stare (as opposed to staring at screens, which they're all too good at). Humans are prejudiced toward flipping switches, pressing buttons, pushing pedals, wielding tools. In short, they're all about action and view the rest of the world as that which reacts. That's why all their films, video games and even best-selling novels are packed with what they call "action heroes." It's also why they say the world is their "oyster," something to be pried open.

Dogs also love action, of course, but we have a deep and abiding understanding of inaction, which is why we spend such large parts of our days in droopy-eyed meditation. We have an instinctual knowledge of what I modestly call the Hankenberg Principle, which states that the very act of observing an event changes that event. So we watch our humans, not just to keep tabs on them, but knowing that our observation will eventually lead to a change in their behavior.

Mike, for example, can usually be driven off his computer after no more than a five-minute stare, if I time it right. If he goes longer or tells me to go lie down, I usually sigh loudly and throw myself down onto the uncomfortable hardwood floor next to him, my eyes drooping. This, I've found, is really applying the pressure, an act of such audacious self-denial that it's almost certain to elicit much fidgeting and finally a sigh from the humans. Again, the power of inaction. Water beats rock, Beta overrides Alpha. I'd draw you a Venn Diagram but it's sometimes hard for humans to grasp the deep metaphysics of canine science.

February 18, 2006


Big Dog, Little Dog (Part 1)

Look, I'm just a regular dog. I put my harness on one leg at a time, just like everyone else. I drool, I snore, and I'm subject to an array of sometimes unpleasant (at least from the human perspective) bodily emanations.

So having to serve as a role model is hard for me. Yet, that's just the kind of pressure I'm under when Lucy Lou comes to visit.

Lucy Lou is Grandma's miniature dachshund, and she's wintered with us the last two years because it's hard for Grandma to find a seasonal rental that accepts pets. (Sheer dogism, that). Grandma comes down to escape the New York winters and visit, so Lucy becomes a house guest with us for a few months.

I love Lucy, of course. (And how could I not with a name like that?). But as with any family members, we have history. Ours began six years ago when Grandma still lived in Florida year-round and Lucy was a nine-week-old doxy terror. What I remember most from those days was the relentless squirming of a puppy that kept licking and nipping my pendulous Labrador lips.

I was just two at the time and had only recently moved out of my own period of impetuous, sharp-toothed adolescence. (It was, after all, the original era of irrational exurberance). Anyway, my main response to Lucy was just to keep gently throwing my head back and forth and thumping down my forelegs, trying to keep her at bay, or to stand up while huffing and puffing at Molly and Mike, begging them to get me away from this slashing, dashing little hellion.

"Aw, you're such a good boy, Hank," Molly would tell me. "You're so patient with the new puppy. Poor Tanky."

Mike was less sympathetic. "Paybacks are hell," he said. He thought it poetic justice. After all, he'd been the worst victim of my own puppyhood and had the physical and emotional scars, the chewed up office chair, and demolished books to prove it. (I've always been a literary dog, having partially consumed a leather-bound Shakespeare at an early age).

Little did I know at the time, however, that pierced lips were just the beginning of the Lucy Lou saga. By and by, I would become less of a nanny/playmate and more of responsible elder canine cousin, looked up to both literally and metaphorically.

(To be continued...)

February 14, 2006


Happy Valentine's Day

-- But it's no use, says he. Force, hatred, history, all that. That's not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it's the very opposite of that that is really life.

--What? says Alf.

-- Love, says Bloom. I mean the opposite of hatred.

From James Joyce's Ulysses

February 09, 2006


Chop Water, Carry Wood

The Tao of the Lab is wordless,
though each breath holds meaning.
Without command, obedience.
Without direction, guidance.

Each day, Lab chops water.
Forelegs and hindlegs
part rough waves
or divide quiet pools.
Yet the lake remains one,
the ocean whole,
the Lab buoyant, sustained.

Each day, Lab carries wood.
Keisaku sculpted by wind water sun,
knocking knees, scraping calves,
making sleepy tourists wince
or scattering them like shorebirds.
Happily bearing the weightless
burden of this eternal moment.

February 05, 2006


Find It, Boy!

Sometimes humans can even get on the nerves of your average happy-go-lucky Labrador. Mike was giving me a hard time last week at the beach for not being able to find my floppy disc. "Find it, boy! Hank, find it!" he was saying. But what'd he think I was doing already, sniffing around, my haunches going in circles? I just couldn't remember where I'd put the dang thing. "Come on, Hank, you just had it. Where'd you put it, you goofy galoot?"

Yes, well, this was rather like the Dachshund calling the Yorkie short. Because even though humans think they are, in the words of one of their better bards, "infinite in faculties,...in apprehension, how like a god," we, their canine companions, know better. In fact, there is no species on Earth who knows them as well. While children move away and spouses too often divorce, dogs are there as long as people want them to be. We take no vows, yet it it is we who truly take them for better or worse, in sickness and in health, to obey and cherish -- even when they're being pissers.

Mike's giving me a hard time for the lost disc is a case in point. Because there's just nobody spacier than he. I can't begin to tell you how many miles I've trailed after him in the house, my bladder bulging, while he's looking for his wallet... or his sunglasses (hey, Mike, look on your head already!)...or his keys (which he swears he had just a minute ago). I'm sorry but I've seen shellfish with longer memories.

Yet, whatever I may be quietly calling him as I trail along behind him, traversing the house for the fifth time looking for his damned iPod, I say little. (Though I suspect the iPod is actually in his pocket already.) I huff and puff but seldom whine, though you, dear reader, might say I've good cause. No, I am, after all, the understanding type. I still love the galoot. Because, as they say, to err is human, to forgive canine.

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