It’s a dog’s life

It’s a dog’s life

I definitely was not a dog person. Not dog-person, as in those infamous poker-playing dogs immortalized on black velvet (don’t look so shocked, you know that someone in your family has that picture). A dog person, by my definition, is “someone who is emotionally attached to canines of all shapes and sizes and is prone to ridiculous behavior when taking possession of such a creature.” Now, now PETA people, don’t get your plastic belts in a twist. I didn’t dislike or disrespect dogs in any way. In fact, I liked them a lot…from a distance. Lassie, Scooby Doo, Benji. I ‘d spent considerable time with these scions of the dog world .

But if I went to a friend’s house and their dog came barreling towards me slobbering, sniffing and scratching I would instinctively extend my arms, hands upright, palms outward in the universal symbol of “back off.” Apparently dogs can find their way cross country, warn you that your sister fell in the well, or capture one of America’s most wanted but they don’t understand universal symbols. So I’d invariably be sniffed, scratched and slobbered on until I left. My friends, who wouldn’t let their children call me by my first name, didn’t seem to think this was inappropriate. Quite the contrary. It was clear that I was considered the odd one. Why wasn’t I embracing their beloved Franz, or Mitzi, or Boscoe? They’d shake their heads as their four-footed fiend desperately tried to mate with my leg. I could imagine the terms “emotionally unavailable,” “cold-hearted,” even “pathological” being bandied about once I was gone. My post-visit thoughts contained the terms “lonely,” “delusional,” and “just plain crazy.”

But that was before Gracie.

Gracie, an inspired blend of cocker spaniel and miniature poodle, sometimes referred to by the silly, undignified name of “Cockapoo.” No one who knew Gracie would ever think of her in such juvenile terms. She was obviously descended from the palace pets of King Louis XIV (you know, the guy who started the Louvre).

I must admit that I became a dog owner with great reluctance but I had stalled my children long enough. So a-puppy-shopping we went. When I first saw Gracie she was being mauled by a Bichon, a sissy dog that was probably descended from one of Caligula’s twisted pets. We lifted her out of the pet store pen and beheld a shivering, wobbly specimen. I was assured that she was not sick, just a bewildered newborn, recently separated from her mother. That was it. The guillotine had fallen (you know, the idea of that funny fellow, Joseph Guillotine) and I lost my head to a two pound tangle of fur.

We wrapped Gracie in one of my son’s old baby blankets and brought her home. We sat and stared at her as she settled onto the couch (no furniture restrictions for royalty). We took lots of pictures, even video. She slept in a box next to my bed so that I could get up with her in the middle of the night to encourage housebreaking. We called it “potty training.” Seeing a pattern?

Before I knew it I was cooking for Gracie (do you think Louis XIV’s dog ate Kibble and Bits?). She was sleeping in my bed and going on errands with me. I took her to PetSmart like I used to take my kids to Toys ‘R Us. The reactions were similar, full body wiggle, heavy breathing, inconvenient gastrointestinal events.

Simply put, I was wacked.

One day, as I started to think about mailing Gracie a birthday card, I had a brief moment of sanity. Why, I wondered, was I so smitten with this creature who had ruined my living room rug, who had never taken the trash out (even my teenagers had done that at least twice in their short lifetimes) and who sometimes woke me at 4:00 am by barking ferociously at rain?

I came up with two explanations.

Our dogs love us always and forever, without conditions. Who else, besides your mother, can you say that about? They never judge us or criticize us (and can you say THAT about your mother?). They think we’re the best, even at our worst. God, please help me to be the person my dog thinks I am,” is one of the simplest, most comprehensive prayers I know.

If that weren’t enough I think that they remind us of those long-gone days when we, like them, were happy for no reason, always ready to play and convinced that something fantastic was just around the corner.

Dogs are the best in us and find that in us at the same time.These simple creatures teach us to be better humans, through example and expectation. It is brilliant.

So forgive me, dear friends, when I let Gracie ruin your pantyhose or lick your shoes. And forgive me, kids, when I change MTV to Animal Planet. But, sniffing, slobbering and scratching were never so charming.