Stranger in a Strange Land: It's a Dog's Life

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It's a Dog's Life

“What does it mean to live a dog’s life?,” I wonder as I am joined by an overly-excited canine while out on a run. Bounding over melting snow banks, tongue wrapped around the back of his head and tail wagging, he comes out of nowhere to run along by my side. I look down. He looks up. And we continue our run, no questions asked. By the glint in my newfound friend’s eyes, I knew there had to be more to a dog’s life than chasing your tail, marking your territory in yellow and embarrassing owners by humping inappropriate legs at inopportune times.

My first experience with The Dog’s Life was with Boxy, named for the cardboard fruit box my family brought him home in. He was a black and white miniature poodle with, depending on his need for a haircut, either a tight mass of curls or a Cousin It-like mop. Boxy was every kid’s dream, an always-ready playmate and constant source of entertainment. Whether it was fetch, tag, wrestling, camping or simply chasing each other around the backyard, Boxy’s tail was wagging with a readiness to play. One time we decided not to bring Boxy camping with us, instead opting to kennel him. Upon our return we learned he had somehow escaped. Despite our citywide search and telephone-post fliers, Boxy was never seen again. I like to think he couldn’t stand the idea of us having fun without him and, letting his spirit of adventure get the best of him, set out on an epic journey to find us; like a never-ending game of fetch.

My running partner and I begin to head up a steep hill where we pass a random pile of dead fish. The dog stops to sniff and I run on. Just when I think perhaps I have lost him, I hear the patter of paws on pavement as he sprints up the hill, quickly gaining ground.

Licorice was my next dog, a black, scraggly haired, floppy-eared mutt. She was the epitome of a small dog: a bundle of nerves with an ear-piercing yap. Although she pulled instead of walked, had a tendency of jumping onto the kitchen table and helping herself to meals, and often left smelly surprises in the basement, she was full of love. Licorice was a dog who loved with her tongue hanging out. When you left she was sad and when you returned she greeted you at the door with a wet lick across the nose. Even when she was old, blind and simultaneously eating, digesting and depositing food, she always made an attempt to lick a hello and be a loving part of our family.

We run along Hales Mills Road, me on the sidewalk and he surfing the snow. It’s been nearly two miles and he shows no sign of tiring, or going back home. For now, I am stuck.

While away at college my family got their next dog, Juneau. Tired of the small dog, they decided to upgrade to a larger breed, namely a beautiful, black and white, blue-eyed Siberian Huskie. Juneau is best known for her independent, carefree and surprisingly human personality. Despite her size, she curls up on your lap. She has a fetish for plastic bottles, she’ll talk to you for conversation sake, and she has the tenacity to unsuccessfully chase the same squirrel for the past seven years. But none of this captures her free-spirit like the ridiculous, candy-cane striped jingle bell collar and anklets my parents bought her for Christmas. Although most dogs would be petrified at the thought of being seen in public in such an outfit, Juneau, always on the cutting edge of doggie-fashion, pranced down Asbury with an air of unheralded, jingling and self-confident pride.

As I go into the Asbury City Hall to see what I should do about my dog, he sits and waits patiently outside the glass door. When they decide to bring him inside and find his real owner, he looks back at me and hesitates, sending me a pleading look that clearly says, “Aren’t you coming?” It was a short-lived look, however, as it was soon replaced with a gleam of excitement as he befriended the employees of city hall. Yet it was in his eyes that I am reminded of the meaning of a dog’s life. Quite simply, he said, “Play with your tail wagging, love with your tongue hanging out, and prance through life like it’s nobody’s business but yours.”


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