Thursday, January 20, 2011

On the complexities of meeting dogs

I love my dog. There is no other way to put it: my dog is the best possible thing that could have happened to me right now. Knowing that I have him to come home to, being able to cuddle with him, walk with him, talk to him makes all the difference in my life. He is, truly, my best friend.

One of the aspects of dog ownership I didn’t entirely think about was the fact that having a dog helps you to meet people. Walking with a dog seems to invite people to come up and talk to you, whereas walking alone barely warrants a nod or a hello. I have a hard time knowing what to say to people sometimes, particularly people I don’t know, so having a dog has allowed me to meet many of my neighbors—particularly neighbors with dogs.

There is a certain etiquette to meeting dogs that Marshall and I seem to struggle with. I’m not entirely sure if it’s me or my neighbors that make it awkward, but I have learned this: meeting dogs is complex business.

First, the dogs have to check each other out. We all know what this means, and really, as a dog owner, who doesn’t think it’s awkward to stand next to someone you don’t know while your dogs smell each others’ butts? Then, there is the matter of dominance, and it comes down to this: my dog is the wussy dog. Always. He is the dog that sees a dog, smells his butt, and rolls over on the ground, showing his belly and looking up at you with the whites of his eyes showing. He grew up with 5 Chihuahuas and, even though he was bigger by far, I think it gave him some sort of “complex” in addition to his sensitive and gentle temperament.

There is also the issue of meeting people. Marshall would rather meet people than other dogs—I think he might think he’s part human and, in all honesty, who am I to say he’s not? The submissiveness carries over a bit to meeting people in that Marshall is also “that dog” that I swore I would never have. He is…another Buster.

When I was a kid, my sisters and I would go over to my neighbor’s house to play. We had a driveway that was about half a mile long, and these neighbors lived down the street and up the hill, so it was quite a hike to get there. Upon arriving at their home, we would ring the doorbell, take off our shoes on the porch, and be invited inside, where we would say hello to our neighbors, their parents, and Buster. Buster, a golden retriever, was always VERY excited to see us. So excited, in fact, that he always—and I mean always—peed on our socks. My neighbors would yell to their mother: “Moooooooooooooooom! Buster christened Laura’s socks!” Every single time, they would act surprised and so apologetic, and insist that I go upstairs to the bathroom and wash my feet in the bathtub. We always went home with our socks in a bag. It was a long , cold walk home in the winter when you were carrying your socks.

Marshall is smaller, so he doesn’t QUITE get people’s socks, but he is still a Buster. I like to think he just gets SO EXCITED he can’t contain himself…but when little kids look at me with disgust because he peed on their hopscotch board, I don’t quite know what to say.

Then there is the breed issue. Plain and simple, Marshall is a mutt. A gorgeous, lovable, smart and sensitive mutt. He’s been mistaken for many things: a poodle, a lahsa apso, a yorkie and, most recently, a shih-tzu.

“Ohhhhh!” said the man who lives next to me as he walked down the stairs. He is a very sweet man, but he’s pretty awkward, and one of those people you kind of hope you don’t run into in the morning, as you know he’ll make you late for work. “It’s a little shih-tzu!” Except, he didn’t say shih-tzu. He used that really awkward pronunciation of shih-tzu which places entirely too much emphasis on the “shit” part, before reaching the “zoo.” “I used to have a little shit zoo! I loved my little shit zoo.” He scratched Marshall’s ears as Marshall squatted and peed on the pavement. Luckily, my neighbor didn’t notice. “I had my little shit zoo for 17 years! Awww, I loved my little shit zoo SO much. They’re such good little dogs…I miss my shit zoo more than I miss my wife, that’s how good he was.” He doesn’t laugh. I don’t either. “Where’d you get your little shit zoo from?”

I pause. Do I tell him Marshall is not a shih-tzu? Doesn’t even look like a shih-tzu? I decide not to, and just glide over it. “I got him from a friend who had to get rid of him,” I say, smiling.

“Oh, well I just love little shit zoo’s.” He thumped Marshall’s head, which made him roll over and expose his belly. “What a good little shit zoo,” he says, smiling. I smile. Now, every time I see him, he asks me how my little shit-zoo is doing. I always smile and say, “he’s just fine, Mr. Edwards. How are you doing, today?”

There is also the issue of gender and names. There is no good way to avoid the pronoun issue when asking the dog’s name. You’ve got a 50/50 shot and, while that seems like good odds, it really isn’t. At least not for me. Marshall and I were walking past the retirement community down the street a few weeks ago, and saw one of the residents walking down the street with her dog. A little brown thing with a pushed in nose and curly fur, half the size of Marshall, the dog had blue bows in the fur above its ears. Bows = girl, I figured. The dog yipped and yipped and yipped at Marshall, while Marshall smelled her butt and then rolled on the ground.

“What’s her name?” I asked the woman.

“Huh?” she asked, unable to hear me over the yipping.

“What’s her name?” I asked, louder.

“Heh?” she said, again, distracted by the butt smelling going on in front of us.

“What’s her name?” I asked, very loudly.

The woman looked at me, indignant. “HIS name is Prince!” she said, huffily.

“Oh,” I say. “What a nice name. He’s a cute little guy!”

She looked at my dog, lying on the pavement, gave Prince’s leash a tug, and walked away without saying goodbye. “Take care,” I said, calling after her.

There is also the fact that Marshall has a purple collar. Now, I know our society is deeply entrenched in the pink-is-for-girls/blue-is-for-boys concept, but didn’t fully realize that this extends to dogs. (Says she who assumed that just because the dog had bows he was female….but still). I like purple and, honestly, I just didn’t think that long about it when I bought the collar. My dad consistently called Marshall “she,” until he finally said “your poor dog has a purple collar. He’s a man! He needs a manly color to build up his confidence. No wonder he’s a wussy dog.”

“I wanted to raise a dog who is free to explore his gender identity,” I said, not skipping a beat. “I didn’t want him to feel trapped into the gender binaries of pink and blue. Besides,” I said, “you wear purple.”

“Woah,” he said. “You thought about that a little too much.” I’m pretty sure he wondered what I will be like when I have children.

Names are just awkward in general, apparently. A few months ago, Marshall and I met a woman who lives in the complex somewhere. Her dog ran up to us, but was clearly more interested in me than Marshall. “Well hi there,” I said, scratching his ears. I looked up at the owner and said hello. She said nothing. “You’re a good dog, aren’t you?” I said, returning to the dog as the owner was unresponsive. “Yeah, I can tell you’re a lover, aren’t you, buddy.” I looked back up at Owner, to ask the dreaded name question, but she was looking at me, eyes narrowed and suspicious.

“How did you know his name was Buddy?” she asked, as if she was almost scared to know the answer. I stared at her for a moment, thoroughly confused.

“Oh,” I said, “his name is Buddy? I didn’t know, I…”

“But you called him Buddy,” she said, eyes squinted

“I…well…I think I just call dogs buddy…I think it’s something I just say.” I pretended to be distracted by Marshall. “Okay, Marshall, we’re going,” I said. “Bye Buddy!” I sang, probably too cheerily. “Have a good day,” I said to her.

What was really embarrassing was when I saw them two months later, didn’t recognize them as Buddy and Owner, and asked his name again. She looked at me like I must surely have some sort of problem as she said, “his name is Buddy.” Oops.

Finally, there is the issue of weird dog owners. There are lots of weird dog owners. I might be one of them. However, there is one woman in my neighborhood who is a snotty weird dog owner, and they seem to be the worst. She has two identical looking dogs that are some special rare breed I have never heard of, and a miserable looking kid. I am of the opinion that the kid is miserable because mom spends all her time with the dogs, but this is just a guess. This woman clearly is of the “my dog is better than your dog” mentality. Plus, her dogs get a sick pleasure out of growling and lunging at Marshall and making him run and hide behind me, or lay down in the ultimate submissive position WHILE peeing on the pavement. It’s awful. I don’t like her or her dogs (although her miserable kid might be okay).

Her dogs are fat. Very fat. And, since October, they have been wearing sweaters. I’m not fundamentally opposed to dogs wearing sweaters, but I am opposed to HER dogs wearing sweaters. The sweaters are so tight, they look like they must have been knitted around the dogs. I have no idea how else she could possibly get the dogs into them. Her dogs are not friendly, but she acts like they are, and like they are “so excited” to see “their friend” (i.e. Marshall). The second time we ran into them, the dogs lunged and barked and growled at Marshall, who rolled over and wouldn’t get up. When we were done talking, I pulled his leash to try to get him to stand, and Marshall looked at me and flattened himself to the pavement.

The woman looked at me, with something that might have been pity in her eyes. “What’s wrong with your dog?” she asked.

I looked at my dog, rolling on the pavement, and then at her fat, sweatered dogs breathing heavily from the effort of scaring Marshall.

“I think,” I said, looking back up at her and trying not to laugh, “he might just be jealous of their sweaters.”

She looked at me with a sort of confused amusement, and then looked back at the dogs. “Yes,” she said, with finality. “I think that must be it.”

Okay…so yes, I might be one of the weird dog owners. Regardless, I thank whatever higher power is above for sending this dog into my life and hope that, one day, Marshall and I will both master the art of meeting other dogs.

1 comment:

  1. Very entertaining and enjoyable post, and I hope you master the art of it eventually - however maybe not bcs thes stories ar too fun to read as it is :)