Monday, April 25, 2016

Welcome to the Dog Days of Spring

It’s all in their eyes. They know when Spring has arrived, that the gray days of snow and ice and slippery slopes are past. I can tell they know, because of the way they look at me. This is non-verbal communication at its most advanced. 

Sadie and Lexi, my golden retrievers, have this way of talking to me. They silently compel me to think in terms of “walk” and “ride” and “hike” and “get the tennis balls and let’s go outside.” Dogs, I’m convinced, have some sort of sixth sense, a cosmic canine calendar.

As a side note, they also have an internal clock, which tells them when it’s 10 p.m. and time for their walk. I can be watching TV, “live” or recorded or DVD - doesn’t matter - and they will stroll over, sit in front of me and stare. I try to explain, “There’s only ten minutes left in ‘Game of Thrones’; I can’t stop now.” They don’t care. They always get their way.

When you have a dog, any kind of dog, Spring takes on an added dimension. It’s physical, it’s mental, it’s extremely social. Dogs have a way of urging you to make friends with other dog owners. It never fails. I like to take Sadie and Lexi for walks in Queeny Park or Weldon Spring State Park. Invariably I’ll meet people also enjoying the fine weather, leash in one hand, poop bag in the other. We’ll stop and talk. “How old is he?” “Where did you get her?” “Does that kind of dog shed?” “Does he always drool like that?” And so it goes.Yes, these meetings also happen in winter, but the exchanges then are brief and to the point: “Pretty dog,” “Enjoy your walk,” and you’re gone.

I tend to evaluate people on two basic attributes: if they have a sense of humor, and whether they have a dog. Either one works for me, with the dog thing taking preference. Well, mostly. If it’s a little dog that yaps the entire time we’re talking, I tend to be in a hurry to move on. Don’t be offended if you own a vocally demonstrative dog. “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.” I think Plato said that. He probably owned a quiet, philosophical dog.

But I’ll tell you who my real heroes are. It’s those men and women who own rescue dogs. These are dedicated people who not only understand how special dogs are, they take the next step. They save these dogs, to hike and play another day. As I stand there talking to them, my two breeder-bought goldens next to me, and they tell me “This is a rescue dog,” they suddenly take on an elevated status in my eyes. They took the risk of adopting a dog often with unknown origins, sketchy background, questionable treatment and health, and committed their time and energy - and, often, expenses - for an indeterminate number of years. Somewhere, in a dog park or at the Dog Museum in Queeny, there should be a statue in honor of The Rescue Dog Owner. 

True story. On a mild day in late March, I took Sadie and Lexi for a hike in Weldon Spring State Park. Afterwards I felt like having a cold beer. So we headed for Defiance - to the biker bar where 94 makes a hard cut left and right. 

As I stood outside with a bottle of Busch in hand, surrounded by manly men and cool chicks, feeling a little out of place, a rather large fellow and his good-looking babe approached me. He was probably in his mid-forties, muscular, short beard, tattooed arms, owner of a Harley. Oh-oh, I thought. He knows I’m not a biker and don’t belong here, even though I was striking my most manly pose, leaning against the railing like Brando did in “The Wild One”, steely glint in my eyes which, unfortunately, were hidden behind my RayBans. I nodded at the two of them. “Good lookin’ dogs,” he said. “So sweet,” she said. My dogs’ tails wagged furiously. Twenty minutes later we were still talking. He and his girlfriend told me about their dogs, five of them, all rescued from a variety of situations. All of them loved. Lesson learned: You can’t judge a book etc. 

There’s a lot more I could say on the subject, but it’s a pretty day, the dogs are looking at me, and you know what that means. Happy Spring.