Thursday, September 20, 2007

A new dog in the family

 H.L. Mencken once wrote, "Living with a dog is messy—like living with an idealist." This week, my life got a whole lot more idealistic. 

My daughter has been lobbying to get a dog for years, and I have borne it stoically, like Dick Cheney at a Dixie Chicks concert, but my resolve crumbled during the recent heat wave, which rendered it hard to think clearly or even to sleep. I remember vaguely musing that if I was going to have to be awake all night anyway, I might as well have something to pet. 

You always hear that our shelters are awash in homeless animals, but the shelter we visited required us to pay a hefty fee and fill out a lengthy application to acquire a dog, all in the interest of ensuring that we were absolutely serious about taking on the great moral responsibility of having our curtains peed on. 

There were questions like "How long will the dog be left alone during the day?" and "Do you prefer your dog sautéed, fricasseed or allowed to live a long life?" I think some of them were trick questions. 

I was also required to attend a "canine parenting" class at the shelter, where I casually told the teacher I had gotten a dog training video by an acclaimed "dog whisperer," and was unceremoniously told to toss it because she supported the "original" dog whisperer, not the pretender whose DVD I had rented. 

(The government is projecting that dog whispering careers will grow by 500% this decade as the demand for horse whispering declines. Husband whispering will remain frustratingly static).

I also learned about proper canine nutrition, and that dog food companies only care about profits, not my dog, which made me mad, because I didn't even have a dog. 

But finally, after I signed a pledge to feed my future dog only dolphin-free range chicken, and my retina scans were cleared by the FBI, we came home with "Skipper," a little dog with poetry in his wiggle and ears like yacht sails. 

Skipper, so named because when he reaches a certain velocity his rear legs skip like a partying leprechaun, is what the humane society cavalierly called a "terrier mix," which is what they seem to classify almost all hounds of indeterminate lineage, and which makes me think that, as a breed, those terriers must make out like bandits. 

Not this terrier, though. Skipper got snipped. You sure wouldn't know it from the amorous moves he puts on his bedding and the shins of innocent passersby. When he whines and twitches in his sleep, I know he is dreaming of people's knees and shins. 

I think it was Nietzsche who said it: neutered is a state of mind.  

You are probably familiar with "air guitar," where a person wiggles his fingers in front of his body as if enthusiastically playing an invisible guitar. Skipper, on his daily walks, has mastered "air wee." Even when there is nothing in the pump to prime, so to speak, he will still lift a leg on a telephone pole and confidently leave absolutely nothing on it. He will hold the pose for a full 30 seconds, then swagger to the next tree to continue the pantomime. It reminds me of some of our best politicians.

I have not had a dog for 20 years, and it's all coming back to me how entertaining a dog can be. I think he likes our family too, or at least the parts of us he can reach. He can already recognize our shins from a block away.