ESSAY: They’re All Good Dogs

One Sunday last year my friend Steve came home from church and found his dog, a German Shorthair Pointer, on the roof. Steve’s wife was not impressed. After much discussion (or to be more accurate, rapid-fire orders from his spouse punctuated with comments on both his and his dog’s intelligence) she held the extension ladder for him while he carried the dog down.

Steve had wanted to coax him into jumping into the children’s pool.

“That dog will be the end of me,” she said. Meaning, of course, her husband. The nearest they could figure the dog, probably chasing a squirrel, had gone from doghouse to shed to tree limb to roof. Steve was privately proud.

“There’s a hunter for you,” he said.

A dog will do what a dog will do. They don’t think ahead or plot or weigh consequences. They aren’t people, but that doesn’t stop us from insisting they tame down into good citizens.

This confuses me. You don’t even want people to be more like people. Why would you want your dog?

We forgive our dogs because they deserve to be forgiven. They bring out the best in us. I’ve got a friend, Molly, who takes care of rescued dogs until someone adopts them. There isn’t enough room at the shelter and besides, it’s no way for a dog to live. Molly’s dogs are incredibly well-behaved, quiet and respectful, I would even say modest. They are easily pleased, anxious to fit in and happy in the moment. Adversity has lowered their expectations. They’ve lost their owners and this is a seismic event. I can think of a few people who could benefit from losing their owner, which I think can be spelled MONEY, but let’s not get philosophical.

Molly loves her dogs but there is always something wrong with them. Otherwise they would have been snapped up those adorable little families which haunt the pet shelters. I would say most unclaimed dogs are ugly, a sad comment on all of us.

The ugliest was a dog Molly brought home named Buster, a kind of Pitbull mixed with Mastiff or some other goofy combination you might get if you crossed a Chihuahua with a Rottweiler. Buster stood 18 inches at the shoulder and weighed a hundred pounds. He was ugly and jowly and had no fur. He looked like hell. You could see why no one wanted him and why those cute little families probably recoiled from his cage.

Molly loved him. If you sat with Buster long enough you just felt better. He was calm, polite, serene. For such a powerful heavy dog Buster had a graceful lightness of soul. He would rest his head, very gently, against your foot. He liked to be with you and you liked to be with him.

Buster’s one great weakness was food. He was crazy for food but because of allergies could only eat some special unpalatable scientifically blended dry dog chow. During parties with trays of cheese and cold cuts all over the place Buster would miserably and politely lay by the door, drooling on our shoes. Anyone who thinks life is fair or easy is a fool.

Someone finally adopted Buster, someone who came and visited and whose foot Buster laid his head against, but not before Buster and Molly had a little adventure of their own. Out walking Molly found an old man in some kind of distress. He slumped on a bus bench. When she asked what was wrong, he pointed across the street, at another bus stop. “They took my wallet,” he said. Properly incensed, and feeling somewhat protected by Buster, Molly started across the street. Two boys ran off. They left the wallet on the bench, and Molly and Buster returned it to the old man.

Rarely — very rarely, but sometimes — it pays to be ugly.

After Buster left Molly fostered a tiny Pekinese mix, Princess. It had some kind of eye problem but otherwise was calm, kind-hearted, and amusing. “Princess is a good dog,” I said to Molly, after playing outside with her.

“They’re all good dogs,” she said.

Some owners think little dogs need little exercise and this is a big mistake. If anything they need more exercise, since they’re often wound tighter than a golf ball.

A barking dog won’t bark when it gets enough exercise. We had a neighbor whose Maltese never shut up. It never got walked and it was a pop-eyed, overstressed maniac. One morning it slipped it’s leash and vanished. Two days later it came back exhausted. It slept for a week. The owners learned their lesson, and now they take the dog each day by bicycle around and around the block, it’s little legs a blur. He doesn’t bark anymore.

Almost all dogs are good, and almost no people are. We probably all need to be run around the block a few times. Couldn’t hurt.

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Richard Donnelly

Richard Donnelly lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Classic flyover land. Which makes us feel just a little... superior. Mr. Donnelly's first book is 'The Melancholy MBA,' published by Brick Road Poetry Press in Columbus, Georgia.