Gus comes galloping across the road to greet me on my morning walk, then begs for a pat or two. From that sentence, you might think Gus is a horse. But no. Gus is a hundred-pound bullmastiff. A dog. Yes, he’s the size of a miniature horse, but he’s a dog. A very well-trained, sweet dog who loves his neck scratched and his hips massaged. His tail may be the size of a broomstick, but when it’s wagging, it’s clear he’s a real people lover. When I see him coming, I brace myself. He leans once he gets to me, and if I weren’t prepared, he’d bowl me over. Gus’s best friend lives across the street. Hazel is teeny-tiny compared to Gus, but she’s just as friendly. When they’re together, it’s a bit like watching Laurel and Hardy.
I’m glad that dogs love me, because I’m a real dog lover. And we have plenty of them in the neighborhood.
There’s Lacey, the chocolate brown who’s gone prematurely gray on her muzzle and paws. I say hi to her owner and lean down to pet her. She smiles placidly up at me, wags her tail madly, and asks to be scratched “right there,” right behind her harness. If her owner and I talk a bit too long, she sits down, waiting patiently until we’re ready to go our separate ways.
Some of the neighborhood dogs aren’t nearly so calm. The various spaniels seem always on alert, ready to pop away at the scent of a rabbit or other such delectable that just demands a race into the woods and back out again. Only they’re all on leashes. Sigh. Such is the sacrifice they make for a walk with a human. Some little dogs are only at the level to chaw on ankles, should the fancy strike them. Luckily, they don’t, all being well-fed enough not to do more than bark to let me know I’m getting close to their territorial border.
An old fat German shorthaired pointer lived next to us when I was a kid. Penny was too old to hunt any longer, but she was still a member of the family. I was the only one who could pet her while she was eating. Somehow, she knew I wasn’t after her food, even though she apparently was convinced that every other kid was, and would growl and snap. But she and I had an understanding. Her biggest talent was her ability to retrieve a raw egg placed in a sock without cracking the shell. A number one hunting dog, retired after years of faithful service.
After a childhood full of animal allergies, which prohibited owning a dog, I was happy to leave that all behind when my daughter and her husband acquired not one dog, but two. Both Oscar and Maddy were rescue working dogs. Oscar was mainly a blue heeler, and Maddy was mostly border collie. Maddy was the smart one, able to finish her chew bone, then grab Oscar’s toy long enough to distract him so she could steal his bone. Maddy was the soft furry one, but Oscar was the gentleman dog. He watched Maddy go crazy over a frisbee, while he seemed to shake his head and think, “Goofy dog. Too much energy spent on such foolishness.” When we visited, Oscar came bounding out the door—we always met him outside because too much excitement made him pee—dancing and “talking.” He was, and always will be, my very favorite dog. He knew it too, and I was his very favorite human. (Don’t tell my daughter and her husband!)
The best thing about making friends with others’ dogs means that I don’t have to do the work associated with any animal. No need to pick up after potty breaks, nor dole out medicines. No trips to the vet, or remembering to get that particular kind of dogfood they like. No watching a dog age, and then having to perhaps make the awful decision to ease them out of a life of pain.
But. And there’s always a but, isn’t there? No fluffy warmth lying on my feet at the bottom of the bed at night. No dog going wild with happiness when I get home, no matter what mood I’m in. No deep satisfaction when a dog learns to Sit, Stay, Wait, Come, Drop It. No watching the silliness of play, or the excitement when they come back with the ball, and wait, tail wagging, for me to throw it again.
Without a dog in the house, now I live vicariously. I “borrow” the neighborhood dogs, meeting and greeting as we do morning walks, then letting them go off, while I keep the sweet memories of wagging tails, smiling doggie mouths, and generous owners willing to share a moment or two of their dogs’ lives.
Doggone, I really love ‘em.