February 11, 2020

On our morning poo and pee break, when it was warmer.

When the Man waked up he said, “What is Wild Dog doing here?” And the woman said, “His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend because he will be our friend for always and always and always.

-Rudyard Kipling (Jungle Book)


Meriam-Webster defines family as “a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head.” Waldo and I do live under the same roof and we are both very individualistic. Just who is the “head,” if there even is such a thing, is under some dispute and to be determined. A pack is defined as, among other things, “a group of often predatory animals of the same kind,” or, “a group of domesticated animals trained to hunt or run together.” Many dog lovers consider their pets to be family and many animal behaviorists believe that pet dogs see their human companions as part of their pack. Dogs and people have shared lives for some 10,000 to 30,000 years. I believe that the relationship between people and dogs has evolved to be neither a family, nor a pack, and yet it shares elements of both.

Clearly, the bond between Waldo and me is deeper and stronger than a friendship. Still, we are different enough from one another and it is difficult, despite the strength of the emotional attachment between us, to think of us as family. Dogs know that their human companions are not dogs, so how could they confuse them with members of their pack? I would argue that something else has evolved between man and dog over that 20,000 or so years, something that is, in many ways, unique to that relationship. Maybe we should call ourselves a tribe – that seems to me to have the essential elements of both family and pack; but, “tribe” seems to put an emotional distance between Waldo and me that doesn’t fit.

“An intensional definition gives the meaning of a term by specifying necessary and sufficient conditions for when the term should be used.” These are what you find in a dictionary. Let’s try a different approach. “An extensional definition of a concept or term formulates its meaning by specifying its extension, that is, every object that falls under the definition of the concept or term in question.” The problem with these is that it’s hard to specify every example of a concept. Maybe, though, a typical example will do here.

I wake up, typically, sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 AM every day. Waldo is still asleep, which I can tell by quietly raising my head and glancing at him.   The dog is lying upside down, legs splayed wide apart, or curled up in a corner of his bed, nose tucked into his side. It takes me a few moments to clear away the cobwebs of sleep and get the juices flowing. As I stir under the covers, trying to talk myself into getting the day started, Waldo senses I’m awake and repositions himself so that his nose is at the crate door and eyes are on me. He makes low noises, trying to tell me he has to go do his business. If I dally longer, he talks to me, the volume of his voice increasing over time if I don’t get out of bed.   It’s not a whine, bark or growl. It’s not words in the typical sense either, but rather Waldo-speak. And I understand it.

I sigh, swing my legs over the edge of the bed and get dressed. “Good morning, Waldo,” I tell him. “I’m coming, give me a minute.” Waldo goes quiet when he sees I’m moving.

Once dressed, and sometimes, like now in the middle of winter, this takes awhile, I open the door to his dog domain and tell him to come out. He wastes no time and, tail wagging, walks over to the apartment front door. Stretching in a long sploot, back legs stretched out behind him, he’s now ready to go. Leash on, we quickly descend the stairs, Waldo eagerly dancing down them while I follow behind, in a half-awake state, with what can best be described as a stumble, and we’re soon outside.

Waldo waits at the bottom of the porch steps until I pass and then he’s off doing his doggy thing. Pooping and peeing is definitely a part of this, but so is romping through the snow, picking up sticks and sniffing every inch of the way along our path. Tail wagging as he prances along, he makes a warm glow grow in my chest as I watch him enjoy life.

Every so often, Waldo will look back at me as if to say, “Come on, old man! The day has begun!” I sigh and tell him, “I’m coming, I’m coming,” as I hobble along behind. Sometimes, he’ll walk back with the stick he currently has in his mouth and tempts me to try to get it from him. He wants to play. I do my best, while trying to keep from falling on the slick icy ground.

Soon, we’re back in the apartment and I remove his Halti. I pet his head, rub his shoulders and chest, give him a head hug and tell him, “I love you Waldo.” He licks me and tries to give me love nibbles, sticking his nose right where it is most disruptive to what I’m trying to do — remove my shoes and coat. By this time, I’m fully awake and it’s time for breakfast — dog food for Waldo and bagel with cheddar cheese for me.

There you go, a brief snippet of our relationship.

Label it how you will, family, pack, tribe or something else, we are a unit.

My roomie and best friend.

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