July 9, 2019

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then I want to go where they went.”

-Will Rogers


Waldo and I are in Ghiloni Park. I’m too beat to go on our rail-trail walk today, so I brought us here to run and play. There are trails here too, but I decided we’d just stay on the open grass soccer fields today. We’re a ways from any traffic and there aren’t a lot of people or dogs out, so I put Waldo on his fifty foot leash and let him go. He is free to run at will, but he is dragging the florescent orange leash behind him so it’s easy to grab if need be.   I’ve brought a ball and a toy that amounts to a braided rope at the end of an elastic cord that’s attached to a four-foot rod. These keep him interested and entertained for a while.

It’s a bright, sunny, warm day and it doesn’t take long before Waldo works up a pant. At first, he races after the ball when I throw it, then returns it. He used to drop it when he brought it back, but some time ago, I wanted to play tug-o-war with him, so I taught him to do that. Now he won’t release a retrieved toy without some work. He even ignores treats when I tell him to drop it. It doesn’t take long and instead of bringing it back, he goes some distance from me, lays down, grabs the ball in his front legs, pants and looks at me as if to say, “You run after me, old man. It’s hot out here.” I agree it’s hot, but instead of running after him, take out the other toy and entice him to go after that. I’m not stupid.

The braided rope toy is about 18 inches long and it’s effortless to make the thing hop around in a way that is irresistible to a young border collie. They seem to think that anything that moves fast and erratically needs discipline and they are more than willing to provide the obviously needed guidance. This continues until it’s obvious that Waldo’s interest is waning. I let him rest and sit down next to him for a few pets and pats.

Why do human beings have pets, I wonder. There are probably as many answers to that as there are people that have pets. For some, they are surrogate children or even spousal replacements. For others, they may be trophies or animals for work. For me, Waldo is none of these.   He is just a dog. Another living being who, because of pack instincts, or whatever, is an animal that I can interact with, communicate with, and share life with. He doesn’t replace any people that I wish were in my life, but aren’t – I still have those and I am grateful for them. He’s a welcome addition, something extra. A canine friend.

I’ve had many dogs and I knew very well what having a dog would bring to me before I got Waldo. I got him so that I could have a dog-presence in my life. Someone who would provide something only a dog can provide. Anthropomorphize all you want, but I wasn’t looking for something a human could provide. I wanted a dog. And I got a good one.

It’s getting hotter and I can see that Waldo is uncomfortable, despite the water I give him. It’s time to collect his toys and return to the AC. I open the car door and say simply, “Okay, get in,” and Waldo jumps into the passenger seat and curls up with his tail under him and his chin on the console. Soon, we’re home, me in my chair and Waldo curled up on the floor.

So, what is it that I think a dog can provide? I’ve mentioned a few things that I enjoy with Waldo, but there’s also a lot of stuff that lies in the category of je ne sais quoi. An ineffable quality, like whatever it is that a lover provides, but different. You go for a walk with a dog and you’re not alone. You may still be lonely, but you’re not alone. You can interact with a dog and there is real communication there. Oh, you can’t share the intricacies of relativistic astrophysics, innuendo is lost on them and they can’t text worth a damn. But there is something basic, something essential to life, something subtle, but profound that you can communicate. These are things that you can’t normally communicate with people because with them, you are too busy with that other stuff.

Robert Heinlein had a word for it. Waldo and I, we grok each other.

Waldos rope toy.

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