Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Dog's Tail

I'd like to share a wonderful e-mail I received from Chuck Schick about his adorable black Lab Barley.

Barley was a beautiful black Lab and the best companion we could have asked for. He was not as openly affectionate as some dogs, preferring to present his butt for rubs as a way of meeting and greeting the world on his own terms. He doled out kisses begrudgingly to me and my girlfriend, yet bestowed them spontaneously on small children, whom he recognized as kindred souls with playful spirits and the knack to live in the moment.

Barley had a puppy face that fooled people into thinking he was a much younger dog. Even after he turned 10 and I'd take him for walks at our favorite spot on Boston Harbor, people would spontaneously compliment my "beautiful dog" or ask if he was a puppy. He'd greet them enthusiastically, turn-up his nose at smaller dogs and ignore them, sometimes lunge at similarly-sized dogs whose body language he didn't like, and trot warily past larger dogs that he preferred to give a pass.

He was by turns meek, ferocious, deferential, playful, somber, bored, restless, ecstatic, courageous, protective... whatever the moment required. Sometimes we'd call him "Mr. Curious" or "Mr. Serious" when his expressive features and body language made his attitude clear for all to see.

Barley was a cozy dog who loved to curl up with us on the couch or the bed, but always on his own terms. Usually that meant with his butt turned toward us (or in the bed, with his head pointed toward the foot). I always wondered if this was some sort of defensive instinct passed down from his ancestors' DNA when wolves slept in packs and had to watch each others' backs.

Barley was a dignified, noble dog, and this will always be one of my strongest lingering impressions of him. He had his moments of weakness, drooling as I consumed a slice of pizza as he awaited the crust that he knew he would receive (one of the few people foods I indulged him), or lingering underfoot in the kitchen during any dinner preparations. But he also had a sort of mortified, self-conscious side that he showed when meeting other dogs and their greeting rituals, once he'd matured past the puppy stage and put away puppy things. His back hair would go up and he'd stalk away, as if embarrassed about the other canines' manners. At the dog park, he'd forsake the doggie scrum in favor of the cluster of owners and the treats his Lab nose sniffed out in their pockets.

Often when I'd ask him a question, he didn't recognize the substance but knew from my interrogatory tone that a response was required. He'd stare at me for a beat or two, then glance around the room as if looking for clues. One of his most endearing mannerisms, of so many. Uncomfortable with sustained eye contact, he'd often glance away and appeared to be rolling his eyes like Snoopy delivering a punchline.

No comments:

Post a Comment