I am feeling distinctly at a disadvantage these days. For the second time in a row, I’ve met a new neighbor who’s introduced himself, then gone on to introduce me to his dogs. Oh, please. I can barely recall human beings’ names, much less animals’. This is too much to ask.
I realize I’m probably just feeling defensive, though. Our kids have fled the nest, so I can’t introduce them to anybody. We only have a cat, Lefty, who never accompanies me anywhere. No snappy introductions there (although our new vet, who makes house calls, decided he liked our cat when I told him the Lefty’s name reflected his feline politics when he went to the polling place vote).
Slowly, painfully, I’m making my way to a confession: I really don’t like dogs that much.
There. Oh, God. Now I’ve said it. There’s nothing less American, less humane, less sympathetic than admitting you don’t particularly like Man’s Best Friend. It marks you forever as someone who can’t appreciate unconditional love and loyalty, who didn’t worship Old Yeller, who objects to having her crotch sniffed and her leg humped.
What’s the rule I always hear? Dogs and kids can tell if someone’s a good person; they can sniff out the loser, the infidel, the secretly snide and cruel, in a nanosecond. They’re a character test that I’m sure I’ll always fail — even though I do retain a fondness for small children who belong to other people and aren’t sitting next to me in a high-priced restaurant screaming their lungs out and slinging their forks and knives in my direction.
But, dogs? They’re fine, at a distance, when they’re not jumping up and licking me. “Oh, don’t mind him! He never bites!” the ever-cheerful dogowners always say when their big, snarling cur comes rushing up to me at a park. (Oh, really? That’s what every news article I’ve ever read about a marauding pit bull says. “He never bit nobody before he took an arm-chunk outta Junior the other day. But, hey! Junior’s still got his other arm.”)
It all brings back memories of the summer my family and I spent in Costa Rica in 1993. We lived with a family that had a pit bull named Mickey. I walked around in High Alert mode, sure the dog was going to lunge at my kids and I’d be forced to make a Sophie’s Choice between them. But Mickey continued along, peacefully enough, till a cat wandered into his territory in front of the house. The next thing we knew, Mickey was strutting around the house with the cat’s lifeless, bloody carcass hanging from his enormous jaws. it wasn’t the kind of occasion that encouraged trust or peace of mind.
But, I know, I know. Most dogs aren’t pit bulls and they don’t kill or maim. Big deal. I can still do without them. A few days ago, our new neighbor’s yappy little furballs came bounding onto our yard — onto our property, for God’s sake — barking at our cat. I could hear our neighbor calling out to them in her similarly high-pitched voice, which never seems to do any good. She thinks her creatures are so adorable, it never occurs to her they might get on others’ nerves.
Since I was watering the flowers in our front yard, I turned around to greet the yipping little invaders. The blast of cold water in their faces sent them right back home. I’m sure I’ll be punished someday for this nefarious act — by a Higher Power that cleverly disguises His leanings by spelling DOG backwards — but I didn’t care. I loved the way they hightailed it back to their side of the street.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)