My mother, the incorrigible humanitarian she is, remains convinced that whatever connection dogs and humans have is based on humans projecting their emotions/expectations/desires on dogs. She seems to firmly believe that dogs are in no way differentiated from the rest of the animal kingdom, and treats them as such. Growing up, any family dog we had was neglected, isolated, and eventually put down when he/she ceased to “behave” properly.
Well, no shit. If you use the same glasses to look at dogs as you do to look at chickens, you’ll end up either blind, or putting down the dogs. Both, most likely. Why? Because dogs are unique. They’re pack animals; they need companionship. They need structure. They’re incredible interpreters of human will, capable of binding themselves permanently to their people much in the same way that lifetime human partners do, of grieving when they lose their family. Recent research indicates that, rather than being tamed by humans, dogs and humans evolved together, mutually benefitting from each other’s’ independent strengths.
I believe that. As the owner (life partner?) of a big, goofy pup, I totally believe that. Lois, who turned two on Sunday, looks to me like a toddler looks to its mother: an independent, intelligent will, easily manipulated by comfort (read: cuddles and food, mostly food). But loved, loved, loved, and appreciated nevertheless.
Indeed, dogs (even the smartest ones) seem to mature at about the mental capacity of two year old Homo sapiens. Lois, not the smartest of all canines, may not quite hit the learning curve that her more evolved counterparts do, but she displays common characteristics of young humans nonetheless. A constant need for physical affection. A desire for incessant praise. The need for reward for good behavior, and immediate, reasonable punishment for the bad. A stubborn desire to do whatever the fuck she wants, even if you’re calling her to come, and she looks in your eye, and knows exactly what you mean, and refuses to cooperate. A frustrating tendency to pee on the floor when you least expect it. But she, especially as she gets older, comes when I call (unfailingly if I hold a piece of string cheese). She knows that I feed her, and when I say, “Want to go outside?!” that a really awesome treat is coming her way.
Once, I read online about dog intelligence tests. There were all these fancy ways to tell how smart your dog was, and just by looking as most of them, I was able to say, “Lois would never be able to do that.” One, however, seemed reasonable and feasible. You can, in theory, take a hand towel and drape it over your dog’s neck. The amount of time it takes them to figure out how to remove said towel corresponds with their intelligence (there was a time limit, I can’t remember exactly). I thought, “That’s easy enough. Let’s try.” I took the kitchen dish drying towel, called Lois close, and carefully draped the towel over her neck. She looked at me. I looked at her. She looked at me some more. I breathed. She breathed more loudly. I said, “Come on, Lois!” She breathed some more. We looked at each other some more. I clapped my hands. She wagged her tail. Then, with rampant abandon, she got bored and threw herself onto the floor with a desperate sigh. The towel remained in place. I snatched it off, shook my head, and poured myself a double shot of whiskey.
Lois has begun to display some of the early signs of hip dysplasia. Her back legs have ever so slightly begun to bow outwards like a lanky cowboy’s. She limps just a little when we come back from long, brisk walks (which, admittedly, don’t happen often—she doesn’t like them that much, and neither do I. We’d rather ramble slowly along Evanston’s sidewalks for an hour, take our sweet time, and then come home and take a nap. Along the way, she admires fire hydrants and piles of poop, and I admire houses and gardens). I’ve placed her on a diet, consisting of less food, more often. We’ll see if that helps. I hope so.
If not, I’ll get her a hip replacement. Fuck it, I’ll get her two. Even if I’m not the best dog mommy in the world, my great big little Lois means the world to me, and I’ll keep her around as long as I can. She’s hairy, loud, shifty, sneaky, dumb, lazy, and I love her.
As she gets older, Lois’s personality is changing. Sometimes, she needs some coaxing to get up in the morning to pee (for some inexplicable reason, she sleeps between the bed and the wall with her face firmly wedged under the bedframe). She doesn’t jump on me anymore when I come home, although she’s still very excitable. If we turn around and come home from a walk sooner than she wants, she begins to growl and crowhop until I say, “Knock that shit off, Lois,” and then she actually does, promptly, knock that shit off. She eats less. She chews less. She sleeps more and snores more deeply. Her nightmares (of what? Chasing rabbits? Scaring the neighbors on the stairs?) become less frequent. She’s growing up.
I loved Lois as a puppy, and I’ll love her as a dog. It’s a testament to how much we trust each other when I say I want Lois to be alive when I have kids, and I know she’d equally love my mini-humanites. When we were at the beach last summer, and the little Mexican niños asked if they could look inside her floppy ears, and I let them, and she loved it, I knew she’d be a good baby dog. You know what? Now that I think about it, I knew way back when Chad and I took her to an outdoor patio restaurant and a baby just old enough to walk came right up to Lois, sat in her lap, and began to pull Lois’s face to and fro. Lois loved it, and she was maybe three months old.
Isn’t that weird? That I want Lois around for my kids the same way I want my friends and family? That’s because Lois is my girl. She’s my wingwoman, my sidekick, my best bud. She gets me and I get her. I wish she would live forever, keep me company till I get old, and then we can meander Evanston together at 1.3 MPH, because I know she wouldn’t rush me and she’d scare away all the ne’er-do-wells. She’d probably still lay down in the snow, mid-walk, just because. I’ll never be a little old lady, but maybe I’ll be a large old lady, and if we were large old ladies together, I’d lay down in the snow next to her, and we’d just be tired and snuggly and snowy together. It could happen. Right?
Lois and I are bonded through the invisible process of oxytocin release, that same mind drug that makes humans fall in love. When you pet a dog, your brains both explode in a total happy neurochemical Baker bomb of happiness. They get it, you get it, and it makes the tough, strong, intense connection that we silly humans call love. Even if dogs (or my mom) can never quantify why they love us, they do. It doesn’t make it mean any less, or devalue the relationship between the two species. If anything, it makes it mean more.
Lois, I love you. You’re a total dumbass, and so am I. We get along in our stupid, goofy way because I’m a walking disaster and so are you. I pick up your poop, and you pick up my food spills. I scare away vacuums and hair dryers, and you scare away the neighborhood punks. I provide you with food, and you provide me with total destruction of all valuable property I own. We provide each other with companionship, female buddyhood, silent communication, and long moments of looking into each other’s eyes (you panting heavily, me drinking heavily) and we. get. each. other. We’d probably menstruate together if I hadn’t paid someone to scoop out your lady parts years ago (sorry about that). You didn’t like that guy who stopped us midwalk, asked for my number, and constantly harassed me thereafter. I should have trusted your judgment. Screw him, right? (nonliterally. You’ve never humped him and neither have I).
Happy motherfuckin’ birthday, girlfriend. May you have many, many more.
your mommy, best friend, roommate, and unintentional chew toy provider