Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Things I do for Love

My dog is a lovely soul with a talent for getting loose. When I first put him in my yard, he pulled at the back gate until he managed to separate the chain link from the fencepost, and then he squeezed his lean black lab body through the gap and ran wildly through the streets of the neighborhood. I'd get calls from the nursing home two blocks away, "Hello, I'm calling about your dog, Buddy, he's here - oh - now he's running. He's headed east on 38th street, if you want to catch him." I want to catch him. Desire is never the problem. The problem is that he has four predator legs, and I only have two. He has the lean muscular body of a hunter, and I have only the short bursts of speed of an urban animal. Perfect for catching buses. Not so good for chasing after determined runaway dogs.

When I replaced the gates, he tunneled, like a canine version of Tim Robbins's Shawshank Redemption character. He found a weak spot below the fence which led him to Bev's yard next door, where a conveniently placed rise in the ground gave him just enough lift to clear her fence with a single leap. He was free, long lean body stretched out against the ground. Meanwhile, I stumbled after him, lamely offering treats to his departing figure. What good my biscuits compared to the sweet, sweet taste of liberty?

I tried to get inside his head. I became a dog whisperer of sorts. Perhaps, I thought, he needed more exercise, and so I took him to the dog park to tire him out, and then I watched him flee from the back yard less than an hour after he had run himself weary in the woods.

Perhaps, I surmised, his abandonment issues forced him to run from me. He had to leave me before I could leave him. Hadn't I, myself, practiced this very philosophy on more than one unsuspecting man? And so I lavished him with affection. I tried to gain his trust through pats behind the ears and scratches of the belly. He took the love in the same calm way he takes all forms of affection. "I deserve this," he seems to say. "I'm a good dog." Instead of me gaining his trust, he gained mine. I got lax in the pulling closed of gates and doors, and he pushed past me, mischievous glint in his eyes, "Catch me if you can," he said, "I'm the gingerbread dog."

And so we have reached the age of Loving Distrust. Buddy does all of his business on the end of a tightly held leash. Two to three times a day, I hold that leash, and walk the streets of my neighborhood, and, much as I grumble, it's good for me. However, we have had some dark and cold days here in Minnesota this winter, and so, with Buddy lifting his paws gingerly off of the frozen pavement, I wrap myself in layer after layer of cashmere and down, soft and fluffy garments, covering my rock hard core, clenched like a fist against the goddamn cold. He stops to smell some other dog's pee, and I yank his leash a little too roughly. "Let's go, Buddy," I say, "it's too cold for this." He's waiting, as am I, for the days when we can stroll again through the neighborhood, with something more than irritability and cashmere to keep us warm.

PS There was a photo to illustrate. I can't get it from camera to computer. So imagine a picture of me in the dark, up to my eyeballs in cold-weather gear, in one of those photos you take of yourself from an arm's length away.
I give up. I'm buying a new digital camera tomorrow.

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