Wednesday, November 21, 2007
A Thanksgiving dog story
I've seen a look in dogs' eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.
When you think about it, Steinbeck was probably right. In the dog's world of simple rules and predictable consequences, the unpredictable and inconsistent antics of some pet owners must be confusing. As Terrierman says, "Men fail dogs more often than dogs fail men." But dogs are far more forgiving than people, even when teased, duped or punished.
In the days when five out of ten boxers were named Ginger, we had a boxer named Ginger. Our luck with a string of mixed breed runaways and furniture eaters had not been good, and my father decided to solve the problem by getting "a dog with papers". Ginger's ancestors had multiple phony bourgeois names, and Pa took considerable pangs to cook up an equally phoney name for Ginger's registration papers. He was crestfallen the first time Ginger rolled in doodoo, and thereafter he scoffed that "pedigrees don't mean a damn thing".
But Ginger became a part of the family, and unlike her predecessors, she never ran away the moment you opened the front door.
I was ready for fun that Thanksgiving afternoon. An hour before dinner the men and children were in the living room, and the women were busy in the kitchen. Ginger of course was also in the kitchen, adrool and underfoot and hoping for turkey and dressing. It was only a matter of time before my grandmother and mother would send her back to us, and there on the carpet the surprise would be waiting.
The surprise was a plastic dog turd.
When Ginger sauntered back into the living room we pretended to ignore her. We knew she had seen it when her body language suddenly changed. Every fiber betrayed her guilt. Dog dejavu. She knew she would be blamed. Innocent dogs often take the rap.
She glanced sideways to the couch, and noticed that we hadn't noticed her predicament. That's when she decided to escape the association with this troublesome thing, and cowered in uncertain retreat into the dining room.
The game was up, and we broke into hysterical laughter. Now it was dog redemption, and everything was different. From the gloomy abyss of guilt Ginger's spirit soared to the heights of joy. She bounded back to us and waggle danced like she hadn't seen us for months.
I am still amused, but embarrassed that I trifled with her emotions. In retrospect, she had to know that this plastic smelling thing was not of her making. She also seemed to know she could catch hell for things she didn't do. Her innermost thoughts will forever remain a mystery, but if she thought we were nuts, she accepted us with all our warts. It's a lovable quality.
There was a small price to pay for this cruel caper. After dinner and before we went home, my grandfather had the kindness and perhaps the perversity to feed the dog a modest portion of the turkey and dressing she so craved. The methanogenic properties of that turkey dressing could have fueled a rocket, and as soon as we got home Ginger started to vent a blue methane the likes of which we had never quite experienced before. She meant us no harm, but there was a poetic justice in the way she followed us from room to room and dozed at our feet. The payback lingered and followed us for the next 24 hours, an unspeakable and unlikely reminder of a happy Thanksgiving.