Thursday, October 3, 2013

It's a Dog's Life


by Greg Larson           

Thirteen-year-old Douglas, our cairn terrier, has no problem with self-image. He goes about his day as if he owns the world. He’ll lie down in the middle of the hall or a doorway, expecting respect for his position. Sometimes, this requires us to ask him to move, which triggers a look from him that says, “Yeah, right,” as he remains in his selected spot.
I’ve learned to carry a flashlight and walk with care when getting up in the night. Once I think he has developed a routine, he’ll move to a new and unusual location which is usually in my path. He gets really cranky if my feet get too close or if I surprise him. The snarling and show of teeth is annoying in the middle of the night.
When I first met Douglas, he was one year old and full of energy. He was Gretta’s dog. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Gretta would become my wife and Douglas would be our faithful pet. I’d sit on the couch and watch him circle the room. In one quick maneuver, he’d leap to the couch and bound over me and the end table. I guess it was his way of bonding. He didn’t come and beg to be loved. At first, I thought this meant he didn’t like me, but Gretta explained that cairn terriers already know they’re top dog.
He’s a big dog in a small package and he truly believes he is the alpha dog of the world. The positive side is that he rarely barks at anything. The mailman will walk right up to the front door where Douglas is positioned, and there is not a peep. Douglas knows the mail has arrived, and there is no significant reason to get excited. The biggest response is usually a sigh and a repositioning of his head on the floor.
Douglas watches out the front door at the parade of dogs and owners passing by on the sidewalk. On rare occasions he offers a short bark or raises his ears and his tail. If he sees one of his friends, he gets up to let us know he wants to go in the backyard, which is adjacent to a path in the park behind our house. He knows which dogs will be coming by the fence to greet him.
Once outside, he strategically waits for the parade to come. He’ll tag the bottom of the chain-link fence with a quick shot of urine and wait for all of his buddies – Max, Sanford, Twitter, and others. Eventually, I learned most of the dogs’ names. Everyone knows Douglas, but most don’t have a clue as to who I am.
Douglas' domain
The physical size of his friends has no meaning to him. He’ll sniff at them with a nonchalant attitude, whether they are a German shepherd or a poodle. If he doesn’t know the dog at the fence, he gives them a stone-cold stare or he’ll turn and walk away, as if he’s not impressed. Some of the dogs will bark and jump towards him. Douglas doesn’t flinch. It’s as if nothing happened. It’s his way of letting the other dog know that he’s the boss and he’ll decide when he wants to get excited.
There is only one dog that causes Douglas to go berserk. She’s a golden retriever/mix and her name is Maggie. Every evening at 8:20 a distant neighbor brings a pack of dogs, including Maggie, to the park to exercise them off-leash. Maggie rushes to the fence and stares at Douglas. At first, he doesn’t move. With her eyes drilling holes and her tongue hanging out, Maggie bounds towards the fence and taunts at Douglas. In a flash, he’s rushing across the lawn, his blond hair flowing as he accelerates . . . and Armageddon begins. Paws kick up dirt as they race back and forth along the fence, looking like an arcade game as they change directions several times. Instinct latches hold of both dogs with a show of teeth, and garbled noises of shrieks, growls and barks. At break-neck speed they chase each other, oblivious to the world around them.  As quickly as it starts, Douglas turns from the fence and trots back to the patio, acting like it’s just another usual day. If the other dogs are with Maggie, it becomes Armageddon to the fourth power. Douglas takes the lead in the chase along the fence, with the big dogs tripping on each other while they try to get their snarling faces in front of him. When this ritual first began, the neighbors turned on their lights in their backyards, just to see what caused the commotion.
I’ve never understood why Maggie causes Douglas to flip the switch and turn into a raging maniac. I thought the alpha dog issue was between males only. What causes him to respond to Maggie, a female? I could speculate, but that is entering dangerous territory where any remark could be construed as sexist. Besides, a dog’s world is very different, with Technicolor smells, radar hearing, and primal thinking. Surely, Douglas isn’t having fun with Maggie . . . or is he? It just seems that all the rules get thrown out when Maggie comes around.
Douglas doesn’t give it much thought.  He lives for the moment. On his walk this morning, a cicada began to buzz on the sidewalk in front of us. He stretched the leash and stabbed his nose at the buzzing bug. As far as Douglas is concerned, the cicadas are “mini-rodents” and keeping their population in check is his reason for living. I thought I’d pulled him away in time to save the cicada, but then I heard the buzzing coming from Douglas’s mouth as we walked.  I looked down and watched him savor the catch . . . crunch, crunch . . . gulp. For Douglas, it was a delicious moment. 
Ah, it must be great to live a dog’s life.

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