Novelist | Singer
This title always makes me smile. Dogs and Cats. Or Cats and Dogs. It’s like saying old model Chevy transmissions and Rare Romanian Fragrances. Dogs and Cats are that much alike, generally. Though I am no expert on animal behavior, I have had both, and have mused over their behavior, read and written about it, and I would love to write about Cats someday, but not today.
Suffice it to say, cats are simply the best equipped of Mother’s creatures for survival, having lethal weapons on all extremities, and a primarily guiltless nature which allows them to execute nasty little tricks and exact revenge – yes, revenge on their human servants. Certainly, not all cats are like this, but some, in fact, are.
But I would love to write about dogs. While cats exhibit survival skills of perfection, dogs are quite simply the most perfect beings on earth – people included. Before I had a dog (other than the family dogs as kids – everyone had a family dog), the extent of this perfection was unknown to me. I liked dogs, like most people. But every time a big, thoroughly wet canine jumped up and desecrated my clean clothes, I wasn’t even sure that I liked them. Funny, the owners never correct those jumpers, either. “Oh, he’s so playful,” they say. Grrrrrr. That’s the last time that particular dog jumps on me, and of course, remembers that it’s me. Amazing. That is part of their complete charm. And they have indelible memories.
I hold entire conversations with my dog, Lila. I don’t fill in words for her, so I don’t believe I’m a candidate for Boston State Hospital just yet. She sits and listens to me, reacting to different things I say, and I try to keep the conversation limited to her vocabulary, which is astonishing. You know how a dog will look at your hand when you point to something? Lila looks in the direction that I point, just like a person. In conversations, I can tell what she’s saying, and she remembers when I promise something, like, “When we get back home, I’ll give you a treat.” Quite often, I forget, and 5 – 10 minutes after we get home, she come and remind me – quick little nudge, eyes dart lightning fast to the shelf with the treats and back to mine. “OK? OK? OK? OK?” she says. “You promised.”
My favorite Lila story was at my mother’s in Indiana. I was in, She was out, and had just barked at the front door. As I was walking to the door to let her in, I noticed a man walking on the street in front of the house. Lila turned and took one look at him, and took off like a shot, barking, barking, barking, that shrill, shepherd bark that makes the uninitiated clutch their chest. Lila barks at people, almost all people, and especially people who come within her boundaries, wherever those are. It seems to vary with the people.
It will continue until you give the all-clear, and at times, not even then. Her most irritating attribute. But you notice, I said attribute.
So I’m almost to the door, expecting her to stop at That Magical Distance away from the guy, but she goes right for him, no sign of a slow down, skid, halt. My sweet obedient dog is literally attacking this poor man. My mouth is flying open, my brain can’t compute it. I am mortified, as neighbors are out working in their yards, and of course, Lila’s shrill Aussie bark has everyone’s attention. Her teeth snap in warning, but never connect with his body, now jumping and twisting and dancing in place and finally, he turns and flees down the street, Lila right on his heels, snapping teeth audible from my station on the front porch.
I’m screaming at my dog, and expecting a cruiser to roll down the street at any second, compliments of a concerned neighbor. As soon as the man makes the property line, Lila stops and stomps in a circle, yelling at him, “And stay away from my house!” Finally, my command comes to her ears and she grumbles back to the house, hackles on end, even the ones on her rump.
I grab her scruff and pin her to the floor, yelling in her face about how bad she is. She holds up her front feet in pitiful supplication, glancing at me sideways and taking the punishment. I’m mad. That’s ridiculous, attacking a poor man just walking by the house. Now I’m worried something is wrong with her.
The best part of this story is how it ends.
The next day, the neighbor, Janice tells me the guy is a registered sex offender. Lila is standing next to me, wagging her tail at the woman, then looks at me sideways. See? Her raised eyebrows indicate. Wow. I stand corrected.
Later that afternoon when we are alone, I call her to me and apologize. She first gives me a little peck with her tongue, then averts her head, as she is known to do. She’s a “Don’t get in my face” dog. I promise her I will never mistrust her judgment again, ever. And the eerie thing is, I know she understands what I’m saying. I remember thinking that people who thought their dogs understand everything were just this side of a rubber room. But how does a dog know that – from over a hundred yards away?
Dogs are mysterious and psychic, I know. They feel things, can detect cancer, sense impending earthquakes and epileptic seizures, care for any other animal’s babies and constantly watch over their people. They are special, special creatures in our world. And lucky for me, I have the best one.