The Reluctant Alpha Dog

Okay, so how did this happen?

First, I never wanted a dog. I was fully aware of how much work dogs are, how much they tie you down, how much exercise they need (that is, if you care enough about them you will make certain they get, which is one of the things that so amazes me about many so-called dog lovers who let their dog sit in the house all day long and then merely open the back door when they get home so doggy-do-nothing can amble about in the 300 square feet of outside space available to them – rant complete), I was especially fully cognizant of how much they poop, and also how much the annoying little bark machines can cost you in food, dog accouterments and vet fees. So how did this happen?

It may not come as a surprise, but I don’t even really like dogs and those same dog people are always quick to say, “That’s because you never had a dog growing up!”, as if not having a dog growing up is like not having ever ascended Mount Everest growing up. I had plenty of access to dogs because pretty much everyone else had a dog and quite honestly even that was too much dog for me.

So one night, admittedly, after a few beers – and years and years and years of friends, family, and every other dog person who felt the right, telling me that I had to have a dog and that my kids needed to grow up with a dog (lest they end up a dog-hater like me – touché) – I simply caved. I walked into the living room where the kids were watching tv and my eight-year-old daughter asked again, as she had a hundred thousand times before, “When can we get a dog?”

I remember the moment. It’s visually kind of gauzy now, like one of those wax paper photo effects of yore, and I felt my strength not only ebb but drop out of me like I’d eaten a pound of resolve laxative. I paused for a split second and then said it, “We can get a dog.”

All faces turned to me, stunned, which would have been truly comic had it not simply reinforced what I suddenly realized had come out of my mouth.

I was screwed.

I followed up with something about how it had to be a rescue dog, as I’m particularly annoyed by those who concern themselves with holding one bucket of dog genes above another. You know the Nazis did that.

And, yes, I know, suddenly I was the great champion of dogs, but I do have to make that distinction: you can heartily dislike dogs as an aggregate, and yet also not want any one of them to suffer. I don’t have any particular affinity for deer but you’ll never find me hiding in a tree (dressed like a tree) punching a hole through one’s neck with a high-powered rifle. There are plenty of people we dislike passionately, but we’d still pity them their terminal cancer diagnosis, right?

My wife was on the Google and in minutes and had all sorts of printed pictures of future dogs that they all pored over screeching, “Oh, look at that one!” “Ooh, daddy, I want this one!” “I love Scout!” “Can we get Molly?”

Note that I married into a family of serious dog people. There are more dogs than people, I think. These people would shoot one another rather than withhold a biscuit for Spunky. Family get-togethers are like trips to the humane society. Imagine the stress I was under.

Fast forward to today and we have a half black lab/half Australian shepherd (we think) female dog animal named Bindi (came with that, by the way) and here’s the mystery: I’m her alpha dog. She follows me everywhere – up the stairs, down the stairs, into this room and out of that one – into the bathroom for the love of god. She lies at my feet at any opportunity. She stares at me.

The entire family can be yelling “No, Bindi! Drop that, Bindi!” and she’ll just stand there looking up at them, and then I can walk in the room and say, “Drop it.” And the ravaged shoe is on the ground.

But why me? Does she know about my past? Is she affording me this deference because I never wanted her in the first place? Is she trying to break me as they did, but this time not from non-dog-owner to dog-owner, but from dog owner to dog lover?

Restaurants consider themselves either “kid-friendly” or “kid-tolerant”. I am dog tolerant. I am a dog tolerant alpha dog.

Yes, there are fleeting moments where I look over at her and she’s staring up at me, cocks her head every so slightly, and raises an eyebrow and, yes, it’s kind of cute. But, really, did I trade my freedom (she can’t be alone for more than about 6 hours), my money (we talked about that), and my dignity (I pick up her poop, she does not pick up mine), for kind of cute?

Apparently so. And she does sit when I tell her to sit.

I'm only smiling because she's not pooping... right now.
I’m only smiling because she’s not pooping… at least, not right now.

Only the children and the animals can make us better people.

That just occurred to me, suddenly, but what does it mean? I think that what it means is to be good is simple and all of our evolution and intellect and religion and forward progress really has nothing to do with being good. Good is there in its most basic form. You can see it in children and you can see it in the animal kingdom. That’s enough. The rest is all of us just trying too hard to claim it.

a stump a storm a stone

A Stump

There’s nothing more sad than a stump.
A hole in the sky where once was majesty.
A disk. A flat, ruined, pointless disk.

A Storm

April is the cruelest month
when days in the fifties
are marched back to February
by eagerly unwanted snow.

A Stone

They combed the beach for agates
gathered whatever they found
they named them all agates
then left them on the ground.

Just because!

We do lots of things and believe lots of thing without really thinking about them and sometimes someone else shines a little light on the strangeness of it all. To wit: I came into the bathroom and my eight-year-old daughter was holding one of the large bath towels. The area between her two hands – an eight inch circle – was soaking wet. She was obviously washing her face with it.

“What are you doing?”

“What?”

“The towel – it’s soaked!”

“So.”

“That’s a towel!”

“So.”

“You should be using a wash rag!”

“Why? It’s the exact same material.”

“Wash rags are for washing!” I was getting a little snarky. “Towels are for drying!”

“Wet things.”

“What?”

“Drying wet things so they get wet – like this.” She held up the towel.

“Not like that they don’t!”

“If it’s wet enough they do.”

“Yeah, but now…”

“It has to dry.” She finished my sentence. “Like it always does when it gets wet. And then it gets dry and everything is fine.”

“But that’s too wet!” I said and just then realized how ludicrous this all was. Two pieces of the same material – one two feet by four feet, the other six inches by six inches. I’ve always known that the smaller piece could get really wet and the bigger one could not! Period. End of story.

But why? Just because!