I have always considered myself a good and responsible dog owner: I feed, walk, play, pet, and clean up after. My smart, devoted border collie, Hannah, and her clueless boxer brother Cowboy help me keep our two cats at bay. Modesty aside, we seemed to have the whole dog and master thing down. Our balance took an interesting turn when I agreed to provide a week’s care for my friend Catherine’s two dogs, (Prince) Henry, a puggle, and Jane, a sweet young border collie.
To say that Catherine is Henry and Jane’s owner is like saying that Napoleon didn’t like Russia, or that Michael Jordan was a basketball player. She is playmate, consoler, mentor, master, and mamma to these very lucky dogs. As a mutual friend remarked, “If there is reincarnation, I want to come back as Catherine’s dog!” Catherine has scheduled her work and social life around Henry and Jane’s well-being.
It was only the prospect of a cruise along the Mexican Riviera that allowed her to even consider leaving her babies. I was honored to be chosen as the temporary caregiver on the basis of this platform: frequent walks, twice daily dog park visits, timely but not excessive feeding, and a promise to sleep at Catherine’s house during her absence to provide her dogs as much normalcy as possible. What follows is my scrambled memory of the licking, scratching, barking and good times we had.
My Week With Dogs
Outnumbered four to one, I opted for total emersion in the dog culture. I needed to go in as the pack leader. My weaknesses are poor hearing and sense of smell, as well as being slow, clumsy, and too big. Under strengths are my uncanny ability to find food and the ability to drive a car to the dog park. I believe it was the food thing that clinched my election as alpha dog. There were licks all around, some barking and chasing, and of course treats for all!
Now that I was top dog, I readily gave up my un-doglike pursuits, such as television, computers, telephones, and newspapers. Dogs do not see technology as bad, or confusing (like your Aunt Clara does); they just see it as taking valuable time away from sniffing, chewing, and resting. The five of us ate, walked, wandered, and slept together. Baths and me shaving were voted down by acclimation.
A week is not sufficient time to turn into a canine Jane Goodall, but I did my best to live at a dog’s pace. We awoke with the sun and after a quick trip outside (I did not go full dog), it was time for breakfast, a truly momentous occasion worthy of dance and joyful noise. The rest of our day was filled with time at the park, wrestling matches, long walks, basking in the sun, cooling off in the shade, and imagining the next meal.
Each of these dog’s life activities has a function. While the park provides needed exercise and play with others, it also solidifies our pack. At home our seemingly random play skirmishes reenforce our position in the pack. Our walks are fact-finding missions and a way to sniff out anything that would challenge the established order. We need considerable resting time because a car door slamming, the passing of an unneutered Lab, a fire engine siren, a boor blabbing on a cell phone, or a noisy squirrel must all be investigated.
The gang brought me, the alpha dog, all dangers, real and imagined. I maintained final say on what action was necessary. Our pack was Tea Bagger conservative and hyper-reactive to any perceived change. The troops were able to return to sleep instantly; not so their leader.
Hannah initiated most of our activities. She was second in command and, like Radar O’Reilly, seemed to know my plans before I did. At home she usually watches over me, but the new order seemed to suggest that I had been delegated to Henry’s care. We spent the week being guys, each of us clearly relishing hanging out together. We cuddled and took frequent naps.
Cowboy had come to us as a rescued dog, as was every dog in the pack but Henry. Cowboy’s traumatic early years have left him timid and afraid, despite his impressive physique. The slightest noise startles him and frequently starts a chain reaction of barking that rumbles through the house. What is very sad is that he does not know how to play. He watches the rest of us fetch, tug, and chase but he does not know how to join in. Still, the pack accepts him.
Jane is the wild card, smart and ambitious, a lizard-chasing hunter. She and Hannah are “The Girls,” indefatigable, curious, running in and out of the dog door and upending poor Henry. Jane enjoys being mentored and chewed on by Hannah, but since she leapfrogged over Cowboy and Henry in the hierarchy, she may have bigger plans. (“Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look.”) I feel like telling Hannah to beware the Ides of March.
I read while others licked, but that aside, I tried to stay in rhythm with the pack. The days had a natural flow, and our week ended too soon. Looking back, I feel myself going over to the dog side. I loved my life as a dog, and I still feel the call of the canine.
Tom H. Cook is a no longer local writer. He has grudgingly returned to working and interacting with humans, although he will never view corgis the same.