On July 31, we celebrated one year of having Miss Amy in our lives and home. She slept under my desk, on top of my feet, and I thought about the changes from a year ago. Last year she was so anxious about being somewhere new with these new people, that she barfed before breakfast. That morning, she scammed part of my banana and thought about drinking her dad’s espresso. We took a walk up the beach and back. I didn’t think I’d be able to live with tumbleweeds of dog fur everywhere, and slobbery puppy kisses. But now I don’t think I can live without them. Even if she does bark at the mail lady, or howl at a strange sound outside the front door, and that howl curdles the blood in my veins. I like her solid, warm little body at the foot of the bed while I’m reading a book, the way she make nests out of blankets and pillows until they suit her. I like how I’ve gotten so used to her furry-sausage silhouette that other dogs — retrievers, labs, boxers, spaniels — look grotesque by comparison. Or rather, I’ve gotten so used to her long squirmy body and kneecap height that seeing other dogs is strange to me. I forget how short she is when she is the only unit of canine measurement available.
We are so lucky, also, that the people in our lives have embraced Amy too, welcoming her as a part of our family, putting up with her shenanigans and ours. A conflux of events has illustrated this to me quite sharply.
The arrival of one of Jim’s old college friends: Amy clearly thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread, but he has also pointed out that he can tell which room of the house I’m in by looking for which doorway Amy has taken up a post in: she is either watching me, or watching out for me. But wherever I am, she is sure to follow.
A pool party at the home of friends: Amy is invited, welcomed, and given the run of their large and inviting back yard. Dog- and baby-friendly insect repellents are used, and food is sequestered on tables inside a tent (this doesn’t stop Amy from going in to the tent, but she’s so short the tables conveniently keep food well out of her reach). No one makes fun of me when I bring a doggie frozen yogurt and store it in the freezer until the end of the night, a tasty treat for my entirely too-tired puppy. Almost everyone, with one outright exception, knows her name and shows her at least passing affection, and there are toddling children to follow, investigate, and befriend (they might give her a carrot, cracker, or some cheese; one never knows).
This morning: An article in the most recent New Yorker, a personal history by Adam Gopnik titled “Dog Story: How did the dog become our masters?” The story centers on his daughter’s much-wished-for little Havanese, Butterscotch, and the way that Gopnik’s perceptions of the race of canidae shift after Butterscotch becomes a part of his family life. I especially love his closing paragraph:
“Butterscotch, meanwhile, seems happy. She’s here, she’s there, a domestic ornament; she takes a place at the table, or under it, anyway, and remains an animal, with an animal’s mute confusions and narrow routines and appetites. She jumps up on visitors, sniffs friends, chews shoes, and, even as we laughingly apologize for her misbehavior and order her ‘Off!,’ we secretly think her misbehavior is sweet. After all, where we are creatures of past and future, she lives in the minute’s joy: a little wolf, racing and snorting and scaring; and the small ingratiating spirit, doing anything to please. At times, I think that I can see her turn her head and look back at the ghost of the wolf mother she parted from long ago, saying, ‘See, it was a good bet after all; they’re nice to me, mostly.’ Then she waits by the door for the next member of the circle she has insinuated herself into to come back to the hearth and seal the basic social contract common to all things that breathe and feel and gaze: love given for promises kept. How does anyone live without a dog? I can’t imagine.”
The line that just slays me is “They’re nice to me, mostly.” And oh how that is reflected in my own experience being the owner of a domesticated wolf. Mostly, people welcome Amy’s presence, appreciate her personality, and show her affection; some people, however, do take frustrations out on her that I can only deduce come from the fact that she is a dog, an imperfect interpreter of English, a “small ingratiating spirit, doing anything to please.” Yes, she may hover around your ankles, quiet, and staying in your “blind spot,” easily bumped in to or tripped over, but she just wants to see what you’re doing, figure out if there’s something she can do to make you happy with her, earn her a bit of affection or a tasty treat. The corgi is an inquisitive dog, glad to be in the thick of a group of people, curious, especially about food, and maybe that’s not for some people. Because I’m with her so much, I know her personality and the causes for it, and know (or am learning) how to redirect it, counter it, or ignore it.
I know that instead of telling a dog what NOT to do, you should tell a dog WHAT to do. I know that just telling Amy “get out of my way” won’t make her move, but telling her to “come along,” or simply beep-beeping at her, will get her to fall in line behind me and succeed in getting her out of my way. Instead of “stop being annoying,” telling her to sit or lie down gives her something to do, something she’s good at, a way to please the person she’s trying to please.
Amy’s an intuitive animal but she isn’t a mindreader, and her human vocabulary is limited: she knows a handful of words but mostly relies on the tone of voice, and most people speak to her sweetly, and she knows that means she’s succeeding at pleasing us, resulting in food and affection, and so on and so on, a two-way street of affection and trust, a social contract, between Man and the Wolf who sleeps in his parlor.