The Memory of Joy in Present Grief

alpineloop2013_0003There are dozens of dogs in the shelter, but he’s the only one you see.

The kennel is a squat concrete outbuilding, and the sound inside is cacophanous, almost too loud to bear, between the hollow drumming of rain on the roof and the voices of the dogs, all raising the alert. You can’t actually see a single one around the plywood partitions between the chain-link kennels… except for him. He’s massive, one paw braced against the fence as he casually props himself up, head easily rising above the partitions, to get a look at you. He’s not making a sound, but the look on his face says, It took you long enough.

He’s not the dog you’re here to see, but you know immediately that he’s the one you’ll take home. When the papers are signed and it’s done, you open up the rear door of your truck to lay a blanket over the seat, and he pulls his leash out of the kennel worker’s hand and streaks through the open door, scrambles muddy-pawed right under your arm and into the back seat. Once he’s inside, the look he gives you is equal parts desperate and defiant. You don’t know where he’s come from or what he’s been through, but it’s obvious he knows a thing or two about being left behind.

You drive home with him peering over your shoulder, as if he’s always been there.

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You figure a dog will help you get out of the house more, get in some exercise. You don’t entirely count on the way he changes the landscape of your existence. When you’re getting lost in your head he noses at your hand to pull you back; when you’re feeling alone, he slips in and leans against your legs, to remind you that you’re not.

You explore redwood forests together, chilly northern beaches, mountains and birch groves, canyons and landmarks. He drives you half crazy sometimes, and he keeps you sane, too. He’s there with you nearly everywhere you go, but you’ll always remember this the most: rain-slicked streets, and it’s dark enough that you can hardly even make out the shape of him beside you, except where he blocks out the reflection of moonlight on the wet road. But you can hear the clicking of his claws against the asphalt, and the cheerful sound of his panting as he keeps pace with you, and it’s the most free you’ve ever felt, like the two of you could run forever without slowing down. At night, he crawls into bed with you, tucks himself into a ball in the space behind your bent legs, a contented dot on the comma of your bodies.

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You tell yourself he’s just getting older. He’s maybe eight now, nine, and it’s a decent run for a big dog. He starts slowing down, and it happens by tiny degrees but seems to come on sudden, too; first his hind feet start scraping, at first every now and again and then more and more often, against the sidewalk. You think maybe his thighs are losing their muscling, and then you think it’s all in your imagination. His walking gait changes from four beats to a strange wobbling two-by-two pace, but has he always walked that way? You’re suddenly uncertain of everything. Then he doesn’t want to go jogging with you anymore, can’t manage a slow trot for even a yard, and where he used to quietly egg you on to make your walks longer, now he lags behind even as you’re already turning home. You throw a ball for him and he stumbles and falls, like he’s not entirely in control of his own limbs; once in the span of a single game would be nothing, twice is suspicious, the third breaks your heart.

It’s not your imagination. You’ve got the Internet; you diagnose it yourself. The vet’s only a formality; there’s nothing he can do, anyway.

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He doesn’t seem to entirely understand why his body doesn’t work right anymore. That’s the worst part. There’s no pain, and that’s the best you can hope for, all things considered. What you can’t help is the anxiety, which gets worse the more his body fails; he paces and frets, startles at the smallest noises, quivers with fear in response to sounds that you can’t even detect. The vet gives you Prozac, but all it does is turn the dial down a little; now you don’t just need to worry about his body giving out, you need to think about how much of this stress he can take. When he’s not panicking, he’s sleeping, spends most of the day curled up on your bed. Instead of walks, you drive him to the park and settle in together on a picnic blanket with a book. He likes to lie in the grass and people-watch, but after awhile even that exhausts him; he sprawls on his side in the grass and sleeps there, too. His tail wags easily enough (if a little crookedly) and he’s just as happy to share the bed as he always was (he kicks in his sleep, viciously, but he always has). But where he used to ghost your every move, following you around the house, now he disappears into quiet rooms and keeps to himself. He seems tired even when he’s already sleeping.

You agonize over the when; everyone tells you, “you’ll know when it’s time.” You’ve always figured that was true, but you know the lie of it now.

You don’t know. This isn’t anything like certainty. You still have to make the decision, anyway.

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The morning is overcast and cool, and the park still smells like rain from the night before. Close your eyes and you could be eight hundred miles away, on the coast again, on the same streets you used to run together. He doesn’t even feel it as the mobile vet slides the needle with the sedative into his skin, just lies there and takes the treats and attention on offer, until he slowly falls asleep. You curl up around him while the vet shaves his leg, finds the vein, gives him the last shot. You’re in the grass, under a low-spread tree, on a beautiful summer day, and then he’s gone.

You drive home with an empty collar sitting on the passenger seat.

You weren’t ready to be left behind, but he’s gone anyway.

Four Things You Should Know About My Dog Trudeau

Dear Trudog, what exactly are you doing?

Trudog, you know I like snuggling with you bro but this might be a little over the top.

1. Trudeau is afraid of the oven. He has oven-phobia. There is no logical reason for this. He’s never had a bad oven experience, or been afraid of any other oven or even this particular oven before. But suddenly, the simple act of turning the oven on sends him into a full-blown panic attack. If he has even the slightest inkling that the oven is about to be turned on, he will completely lose his shit. He’ll hide in corners and try to squeeze his massive frame beneath end tables. He’ll ignore all food offerings designed to foster in him a new love of the oven. He’ll pace the house while hyperventilating. Before I figured out exactly what the hell was going on and started trying to head it off — mostly by “crating” Trudeau in my bedroom any time the oven is in use, because I am completely at a loss with this one — he expressed his anxiety by becoming an actual lap dog. He felt better but I was slightly crushed.

He’s not sensing a gas leak (the oven is electric), and if he’s picking up some scent or sound undetectable to human senses, I obviously don’t know about it. Mostly he just seems to be feeling emotionally fragile. Possibly about my cooking. Maybe he realizes there’s a fair chance that my attempts at culinary excellent may one day actually result in a fiery inferno.

2. He’s a surprisingly picky eater. I say “surprisingly” because one of his more terrifying qualities is his particular taste for anything that he shouldn’t eat. Body-destroying foxtails? Delicious. Goose crap? A delicacy, you uncultured swine. Roadkill skunk? It’s like convenient take-out. An entire live elk? That meat’s just really fresh. He also has a general policy wherein anything you throw at his face will be assumed to be food until proven otherwise. So you’d think I wouldn’t have any difficulty getting him to eat anything at all, but suddenly there are no chews good enough for him.

"Excuse me this marrow bone is not what I ordered. I was thinking more like Twinkies maybe. Or squirrels."

“Excuse me this marrow bone is not what I ordered. I was thinking more like Twinkies maybe. Or squirrels.”

Meaty venison bone? Pass. Bully stick? Perhaps, if you ask nicely. Buffalo tendon? Yes, but only every other Thursday or on the full moon. The vet assures me his teeth are fine, though they probably won’t stay that way if he stops chewing on anything ever, and meanwhile I’m reduced to repeatedly placing various animal parts directly into his mouth until he realizes that actually, now that you mention it, this thing is delicious. Honestly, I think he’s probably just screwing with me. When he’s alone in the house he’s probably snickering into his paws. Which is a surprise because…

3. He is annoyingly polite. I probably brought this on myself by naming him after a Canadian, but seriously. He really likes to enjoy the furniture just like the rest of us, but first he has to check with you that it’s okay. This is his particularly pathetic opening move:

It's basically equal parts "look how amazing my manners are" and "please sir, may I have some more?"

It’s a killer combination of downcast body language, tentative tail-wagging, and wide, beseeching eyes.

You might think — as I did, at first — that this is a delightful quality. He usually won’t just hop up onto the couch uninvited, so there’s always time to put down a fur-and-drool-catching blanket. But it’s more irritating than it seems, because first of all, you don’t always know what he’s asking for. His pathetic “can I get up there?” face is the same as his “can I have food?” face and his “can I have a walk?” face and his “why don’t we have a pet squirrel?” face. Once you ascertain that he is in fact attempting to gain access to the furniture, then he has to be invited. But typically he doesn’t find invitations convincing. I don’t know, maybe he has low self-esteem or something. Because you invite him on the couch and he doesn’t get up. He just stares at you as if to say, “Really? Me? Are you sure? I thought maybe you didn’t like me! I don’t want to impose!” You have to go from casually inviting to outright imploring before he’ll actually climb up. I’m never sure whether he’s uncertain of his welcome or whether he’s really pissed off that I didn’t actually bother to send him an engraved invitation and a nice platinum card that entitles the bearer to free furniture privileges for life.

4. Trudeau is a vigorous, active dreamer. It seems odd to me to use such doing words as adjectives describing my particular dog, because a character sketch of Trudeau in general terms would be more likely to involve words like “somnolent,” “laggard,” and possibly “pining for the fjords.” He’s perfectly content to spend a good 90% of his day enjoying various depths of snooze. As I write this, he’s chosen to illustrate my point by dragging himself laboriously from his bed, staggering two steps to a cooler stretch of floor, and collapsing with a heartfelt groan, as if he’s just expended an effort equal to the Iditarod.

In his dreams, though, he is clearly ferocious. He barks in a way that would be deep-throated and remarkably loud, if he were awake. (When he is awake, he’s remarkably quiet; I’ve had him nearly four years now and heard him actually bark maybe twice.) His legs twitch in a fair imitation of a mighty sprint that never leaves him winded. Sometimes his lips curl back from his teeth in a snarl that would be truly terrifying if the sound that accompanied it wasn’t reminiscent of a distressed guinea pig. You’re not fooling anybody, Trudeau. Not even those dream-squirrels you’re chasing.

Sweet dreams, you adorable little bastard.

Sweet dreams, you adorable little bastard.

The Sheepdog Championship at Soldier Hollow

If you’ve never actually watched a sheepdog competition, you might not realize what you’re missing. I certainly didn’t. I mostly attended the championships at Soldier Hollow because I thought it’d make for a great photo opportunity (I was right), but I was honestly more interested in the programming that the rest of the schedule had to offer: dock diving for dogs, and demonstrations on a plethora of subjects including raptors, police dogs, exotic animals, draft dogs, and other entertainments. (I’ll have photos to share of all of that later.) I wasn’t disappointed on that count either, but I was taken by surprise by exactly how ridiculously enthralling the actual sheepdog herding was.

Dog vs Sheep

I attended day four of the event, which meant I got to take in the final championship round, the cream of the crop, the best of the best, and the most difficult course, the “International Double Lift.” The handlers, controlling their dogs through a series of specific whistles and occasional spoken commands, had to guide the dogs through what looked like a frankly harrowing course, over a long distance. (The location at former Olympic venue Soldier Hollow was also gorgeous and perfect for the crowd to be able to see the action on the opposite slope.) The dog is first sent on an “outrun” along the outside of the course, to gather a small group of sheep from the top of the hill, guide them between a pair of free-standing panels set up like gates, then drop that group and go and fetch a second little flock of sheep and do the same thing again. The dog then had to round up the first group, merge it together with the second group, and run the combined herd through another three obstacles, going around a post, then through a series of two more “gates.” The dog then gathered the sheep into the “shedding” ring, which was just a ring of ground marked by colored sandbags. The herder and dog together had to sort the sheep into two groups, keeping only five sheep wearing red cloth collars, and “shedding” the rest out of the circle. If they managed to get that far, they then had to herd those five remaining sheep into a small fenced pen, which was clearly about a million times harder than it sounds. Actually, it was clearly all about a million times harder than it sounds, and they had to do it all before the timer counted down to zero. The judges were also awarding points for any number of nuanced things, like how straight a line the dog managed to keep the sheep on, whether the handler changed sides with the dog during the shed, whether the dog ran out too wide or not wide enough in the cast. Neither herder nor dog are allowed to touch the sheep in any way, and the sheep aren’t necessarily inclined to be cooperative, either. By the time they’ve been herded for nearly a half an hour, they start to sass back.

It’s hard not to get into it, as you’re watching. I’d suggest not even resisting, because a competition like this could make a sheepdog enthusiast out of anyone. When you’ve watched a team do something so obviously difficult for twenty minutes, it’s tough to see it all fall apart. Every time a sheep made a break for it, the entire (very sizable) crowd gasped. When sheep broke free of the shedding circle and put the shepherd back at square one, everyone groaned in sympathy. And when a ewe broke free and celebrated with a manic bucking fit, we all found it hilarious, because we were together in our appreciation for sheep-related humor. Since I was new to sheepdog competitions, I was glad I’d spent the five bucks on a program, which explained not only the course and scoring but also provided illumination on the voice and whistle commands, which is both educational and hilarious. (For instance, “way to me” instructs the dog to move counter clockwise to the sheep, and the corresponding whistle command is listed as “whee-who.” “Whee-wheeeo” on the other hand means “come bye” or “move clockwise to sheep.” So if I told you “whee-whee, whee-wheeeo, whee-whee, whee-whee, who-hee-who,” I trust it would be obvious what I wanted.)

It was truly a pleasure to watch these skilled stockmen and their incredible dogs working sheep the same way they would on the range, and it was nice to spend a day in the company of fellow dog lovers, getting caught up in the drama of it all together. We were rained on in the morning and I got sunburned in the afternoon, I got to pet a skunk and photograph a fox, and all in all I’d say it’s one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. I’m officially a convert… I’d be happy to watch dogs run around after sheep any day of the week.

Things Seen While Walking the Dog

Seen this week while walking the dog in our strange neighborhood, where completely urban developments give way rather abruptly to a strip of wetlands and a weed-choked river most popularly known locally as an ideal spot for the disposal of dead bodies:

  • A single horse, pastured in a field right next to a baseball diamond, very intently watching the game in progress with a look on his face that implied a certain nostalgia. It was as if he was thinking of the long-ago days of his foalhood, when he’d believed he truly could do anything, be anything, before he’d realized that it is, in fact, impossible to play baseball if you are a horse.
  • A beaver swimming in the river. The water was a milky blue and every time the beaver dived it disappeared almost instantly. (Our third beaver sighting, but the second one was dead, so the dog and I argue about whether that one counts. Trudeau likes dead things and wants to eat and/or roll around in them, so I’m sure you can figure out which side of the argument he’s on.)
  • A mother duck and sizable collection of ducklings, who couldn’t decide whether to be more scared of me and my dog or the horse rider coming from the opposite direction. If they hadn’t moved in the first place, we wouldn’t have ever known they were there, but ducks are apparently very loud when alarmed. Everybody stopped for a moment, just to see what the ducks were going to do, because it’s an unspoken rule of the wetlands path that waterfowl have the right of way. Thankfully, the ducks realized they were ducks and therefore didn’t have to actually linger right next to the paved pathway when there were quite a few acres of wetlands at their disposal instead. You couldn’t have thought of that earlier, ducks? Come on.
  • A stately doe, walking unhurriedly down from the parking lot of a performing arts center, as if she was just leaving the evening’s show, beating the crowds on her way back into the woods. She was there and then abruptly gone, and if the dog had not enthusiastically indicated his desire to chase her, I might have thought I’d imagined her completely.
  • A small snake, sunning itself in the middle of a walkway in the middle of the night, apparently unfazed by the lack of actual sun. The darkness also made it impossible to tell whether this was, in fact, a common garter snake as its size and location implied, or some other more exotic form of highly venomous but unknown-because-I’m-just-not-into-herpetology species. I suspect that might be why it goes out at night, that it gets a rush from watching larger, more deadly life forms walk slowly and carefully around it, giving it the space and respect it deserves, because they just aren’t sure whether it’s actually deadly or not. I’m onto you, snake.
  • A very happy dog, who seems to think that all the world is a back-scratcher, and everything looks more interesting when it’s upside down.
Don't ever change, dog.

Don’t ever change, dog.

The Best Kind of Motivation

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about motivation and its many forms. It’s a timely topic, of course, because this is the general time of year when people are already beginning to give up on their New Year’s resolutions, which often seem to involve unused gym memberships and anti-chocolate sentiments that are frankly unnatural. (This video blog by danisnotonfire is a terrifyingly accurate summary of same.) Personally, I don’t go in for New Year’s resolutions; I like to make resolutions and completely fail at them year-round, because I feel like with any skill it’s important to keep in practice. So my struggle with motivation is more or less perpetual.

My dog Trudeau with a snowy muzzle

This face right here is pretty motivating, too. If I don’t take this dog outside, how is he supposed to frolic joyfully and cover himself in snow?

It’s not that I don’t want to do the things I should be doing, it’s mostly just a matter of overcoming inertia. If it’s a choice between staying on my computer or running the dog, the choice is obvious because one of them’s entertaining and the other one’s going to leave me gasping like a landed fish. And then once I’ve dragged myself away from whatever is fascinating me on my computer screen to take the dog for a run, I have to spend the entire duration of our exercise making myself keep going when I’d really rather walk or stop or possibly collapse into a heap in the nearest pile of snow. (Trudeau does it all the time, it seems like fun.)

Still, I’m pretty serious about the running, I want to improve, I want to keep going, and it makes the dog so happy that he has like joy-seizures, so I drag myself out of the house for it. Plus, in cold weather like we’re having, it’s easier to keep warm at a run than at a walk. (Usually I can’t feel my face, but you don’t need your face for running, anyway.) I also motivate myself with a solid rewards system: I have a few good audiobooks on my MP3 player, most of them read by either by Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston, and which I am only allowed to listen to if I’m running. (As it turns out, beautiful voices murmuring in your ears while you exercise is really motivating and also kind of distracting. Not that I’ve jogged face-first into any lampposts or anything. Yet.)

Today was finally the breaking point of our long cold snap; I’d been pondering a movie matinee but I didn’t want to waste the weather, so I resolved to at least take the dog for a short run. Between my hectic holiday work schedule and my traditional end of year being-sick-a-thon, I hadn’t gone running in at least a month. Trudeau was absolutely beside himself when we headed for our usual running route, but I wasn’t doing so awesome. I managed to turn my ankle just crossing the street before we even got to the park, which is probably why as soon as I started carefully picking up the pace, my knee started making its own contributions of weakness and shooting pain. I ran it off like every one of my gym teachers ever have wisely advised, and for most of our run — which really I should call a “slow meander” because I was trying to ease back into it — I was doing pretty good. Around the halfway point, everything started to hurt and I really, really wanted to stop running.

And then I found my motivation.

There hadn’t been anybody at all out and about on the walking path, but suddenly Trudeau started craning his neck back behind us and generally acting like a psycho, which is usually a sign that somebody in the vicinity has a dog and Trudeau thinks he needs to fight it. I looked back and there was nothing there. So I urged Trudeau on, but I don’t know if you realize this, it’s really difficult to keep up a steady pace when there’s a 110-lb jackass on the other end of the leash displaying behavior that’s usually only seen on Jersey Shore. So I turned to look again, and this time I saw what Trudeau was so worried about: a big black lab sprinting after us through the snowy field beside the trail, right across the frozen pond.

I found my second wind, dropped a few dog biscuits on the trail in hopes that our follower would get distracted, and we ran for it. Every time I thought we’d lost him, the little bastard would turn up again, keeping a careful distance but running for us flat-out every time we started to pull away.

For all I know that dog was running after us shouting the doggy version of “Let me love you!” but he was a good 80 pounds and didn’t appear to be neutered and frankly, unleashed dogs are the bane of my very existence in any case. They might be perfectly friendly, but Trudeau has a talent for being so offensive to other dogs that even the saints among them want to give him a beating, and the last thing I want to deal with basically ever is a dog fight and the vet bills that are always sure to follow.

So I dropped more dog biscuits to slow him down, and he probably thought it was all a great game where I run like hell and he gets dog biscuits, but that all ended when I turned and stood my ground, shouted at him that he was a very bad dog and go home, and started lobbing snow balls. At which point the lab looked at me like I had crushed all of his dreams, like he thought we were bros, man, and then he turned and wandered back the way he came, like it was all fine and he didn’t want to hang out with us anyway.

I was relieved to finally be rid of him, but then I realized I was back at the entrance to the park, and I’d run my entire route without hardly thinking about the agony, and then I wondered if maybe I could convince that lab to terrify me regularly, if only I could bring along enough dog biscuits.

What We Have Here Is An Interspecies Failure To Communicate

My dog Trudeau is a constant source of bewilderment to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty good with animals. At least, I think I am, if I judge myself by the standards I’ve developed from watching It’s Me or the Dog and My Cat From Hell. Admittedly, I might be skewing my sample about what constitutes an average pet owner by only comparing myself to people who are in such desperately bad situations with their pets that they have to go on television before the nation and admit that they’re the worst pet owners ever. At least it’s good for my self-esteem.

It’s just that reading an animal, at least on a basic level, isn’t that hard. I’ve always thought it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between a horse’s “oh yes, please scratch me there” face and its “if you touch me there I am seriously going to bite you in your most sensitive and squishy bits” face. A cat will clearly tell you whether it is pleased with your attentions as its minion or whether it’s about to scratch your face off as punishment for your impertinence, and it can communicate that with nothing but the tip of its tail. Dogs are even easier, because their happiness involves full-body wriggling and tail-wagging while their “I am so freaked out I might try to bite your jugular” body posture tends to be unsettling in a way that our human hindbrains can recognize as an impending wolf attack.

This is the expression that means he’s pining for the fjords.

It’s not like Trudeau himself should be all that complex a puzzle, anyway. He’s not by nature neurotic or hyper or mean or moody. Sure, with some of those ultra-intelligent herding breeds you end up expending so much energy just trying to keep them busy that eventually you find yourself thinking that it wouldn’t be that hard to teach your dog to play Scrabble. And anyway, Scrabble is the last of your worries because you’re starting to suspect that while you’re at work, he’s building a nuclear reactor in the basement. Trudeau is decidedly not one of those dogs. He’s mild-mannered, eager to please, quite trainable, and overall pleasant (unless you’re another dog, in which case he’d like for you to come closer so he can punch you in the face but he might warm up when he gets to know you better). He’s usually pretty low-maintenance. Usually.

The problem is simply that we don’t speak the same language, and this leads to frustration on everybody’s part. Like, sometimes I’ll be doing my thing, chilling on the couch with my laptop watching cat videos on the Internet or whatever it is people do (people being me, it usually involves staring at pictures of Tom Hiddleston and making whimpering noises), and Trudeau will come stick his head all up in my business, which I’m pretty sure he finds funny because of the squawking sounds I make while I’m desperately trying to keep his drool and my keyboard from meeting one another. In any event, this sort of aggressive affection is international Trudeau-speak for “I want something and I want it too badly to be polite about it right now so can we just set aside the Canadian prime minister jokes and please get on this issue right now.” I’m totally magnanimous, I can rise to the occasion and refrain from making cracks about Canadians and politeness, obviously. The problem is working out what the “something” is that he’s so desperate for.

Most of the time it’s not complicated: he wants to go out, or he thinks it’s his mealtime regardless of whether it’s anywhere near his actual mealtime. (He recognizes that time is not linear and is rather a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey… stuff. Which means it should always be dinner time.) But when he’s just been for a nice long walk an hour ago, followed up by a trick-training session to exercise his mind, a rousing game of “find the treats I have hidden around the house,” and a delicious supper, it’s kind of hard to think of what else he might need. And since he doesn’t actually speak English, except for a few key words like “sit,” “stay,” “roll over,” and “outside,” he can’t even give me the nod when I’ve hit the right item on a whole list of potential answers. I usually rattle them off aloud anyway, because it makes me feel like I’m being proactive about the situation. When “outside” fails to elicit any sort of obviously enthusiastic response, I’m forced to get more creative.

He may try to convince you that he’s never been on a walk before while you are in fact still in the middle of taking him for a walk. Do not believe his lies.

Does he want a snuggle? Is he just trying to weasel his way onto the couch? Maybe he’s distressed that I’ve moved the ottoman to where I can put my feet up on it and have therefore screwed up the room’s feng shui? Is Timmy down the well? Is he concerned about the situation in Gaza? Am I neglecting him? Does he feel like his life is passing him by and he’s not achieving any of his dreams and he’s only just realized that he’s never going to be able to start that woodworking business he’s always dreamed of because he doesn’t have thumbs? Is it just a general sense of ennui? Does he want to discuss his feelings? Do we need to hug it out?

Usually I end up trying at least a few of my more practical suggestions, like giving him a hug or relocating to the floor so I’m in a better position for snuggling if that’s he needs. I’d offer to buy  him a lathe or something so he could hone his woodworking skills but honestly I think it would all just end in tears. I try explaining that to him gently while he just stares at me, getting more and more frustrated, expressing his dire and all-consuming need for something by decorating me with streaks of drool.

Once we’ve dispensed with this ritual, I’m usually flabbergasted enough to try the things I’ve already ruled out, and since he’s never actually succeeded in convincing me that I haven’t actually given him dinner yet, I usually end up taking him outside, where it quickly becomes apparent that at some point he has slurped down his entire very large bowl full of water and does, indeed, need to relieve himself again. Or he just needed a nice wallow on his back in the grass. Or he was dying to try to make friends with a neighborhood squirrel. (Not normal friends, though. Murder friends. Trudeau is not pro-squirrel.)

Mostly, I think it’s just a test he likes to conduct occasionally, to make sure my obedience training is coming along: he wants to make sure that he’s still able to convince me to take him outside on demand for no apparently obvious reason. Which actually is okay with me, because I live in fear of the day that he truly realizes how quickly he can get me off the couch and out the door just by hacking like he’s about to toss his proverbial cookies. I don’t think my nerves could take it.

My Dog Trudeau Makes Some Seriously Poor Life Choices

My dog Trudeau is kind of an idiot. I say this with all possible love and affection, but seriously though.

“I don’t know what you mean. I am ALL CLASS.”

Case in point. Trudeau is kind of dog-aggressive, meaning that sometimes he gets on just fine with other dogs and sometimes he is a colossal tool. This makes my life difficult primarily because it’s generally impossible to tell, when Trudeau reacts with excitement to another dog, whether he wants to play with it or beat it until it pees itself. Also, since Trudeau weighs in at 110 pounds, he can be a little hard to handle when he decides to get in touch with his inner bastard. As a result, he’s simply restricted from getting anywhere near other dogs, which clearly drives him crazy and doesn’t help the problem, but what the hell, dog? You’d be able to indulge in all the glories of the dog park if you weren’t such a son of a bitch.

I guess if you’re a dog this could be like… the canine equivalent of Chucky? Or clowns, maybe.

We’ve been working long and hard on his ability to listen to me rather than flipping his lid, but still, he is a dog. It’s not like I can just explain things and expect him to be rational. I thought at least his issues were rooted in some form of genuine dog behavior voodoo until the other week when we were passing a vendor’s table at a street fair. The guy had a stuffed German Shepherd toy on his table to show off the collars he was selling.

Trudeau caught sight of this completely fake dog and went full Cujo. I have never, in all the time I’ve had him, heard him bark and snarl and generally just go ape-shit the way he did over that stuffed toy. I’m pretty sure we gave the booth vendor — who had his back to us at the time — a heart attack. His life probably flashed before his eyes.

Once I’d dragged Trudeau away from the offending plushie, I said, “What the hell, dog?! THAT IS NOT EVEN A REAL DOG YOU JUST WENT INSANE OVER.”

And he said, “What? That was totally justified. He said something about my mom.” Or at least, that’s what I imagine he said. It’s sort of what he said with his eyebrows. I don’t actually think my dog talks to me. Honest.

Still, sometimes I think his general psychopathy is the least of his problems. A few days ago I took him for a walk on the local parkway, which runs along a sort of small swampland and is generally just choked with weeds and gnats and kind of nasty river grasses. (It’s actually not always a pleasant place to walk and it’s kind of covered in graffiti for some reason but whatever, it’s close to home and well removed from Utah’s insane drivers.) Trudeau chose to divert himself by eating vegetation, which normally I don’t mind — I feed him greens myself and I think variety is important to a dog’s diet, plus eating grass seems to be an important part of settling his stomach when he’s feeling not-super. But normally he’s eating a few handfuls of grass here and there. This time he chose to eat weedy seed-heads. You know, the kind that sort of look like wheat, with essentially big spines on them? The kind that look profoundly inedible? Things sort of went like this:

Me: Oh my GOD, dog, STOP eating those things! You are going to puke them back up and it is not going to be pleasant because they are practically BARBED.
Trudeau: You’re not my real mom! *noms*
Me: This is not going to end well for either of us, you realize this.
Trudeau: These are SO GOOD! *noms* Let’s take some home! We can grow our own! I’ll poop the seeds out and we can start a GARDEN, lolz! *noms*
Me: I hate you, did you know that? I wish I could just let you walk home by yourself so nobody would know that we know each other.
Trudeau: I don’t know what you’re so upset about. *pukes*

He waited until we were at the farthest point from home, of course, and then he started throwing up seed-heads, one seed-head at a time. We’d take ten steps and then he’d start hacking like a twelve-pack-a-day smoker, and leave behind a little puddle of vileness with a single sprig of vegetation at its center. Walk ten steps, repeat. When we finally got back to the river again, I let him eat swampgrass for a good five minutes, which finally settled his stomach, but that really could’ve gone either way… it could’ve just caused him to puke even more violently for the next twenty minutes. These are the kinds of choices that our dogs drive us to.

Trudeau is known for his poor food choices, though. He once chose to sneak a drink from a pasture drainage ditch while I was busy re-tying my shoelace, and took a nice big drink of brackish, standing manure run-off water. (That didn’t end well.) The photo below was taken his first time at the ocean, and as you can see he is drinking huge mouthfuls of seawater, presumably because his previous mouthfuls of seawater made him thirsty.

He will also eat anything that is thrown at his face, and simply assume that it is edible. He’s a very trusting soul. Usually he won’t bother to smell or taste it, he’ll just shovel it down his gullet. I’m pretty sure if I threw a chainsaw at his face he’d swallow it. Actually, we could possibly turn that into a sideshow act and maybe he’d earn his keep for once. Lord knows he’s not going to acquire any other sort of gainful employment, unless you can count “being a total knob” as an occupation.

If you enjoyed this post, I would like to offer you some additional recommended reading. You might enjoy my previous post about the day I threatened to develop psychic powers just so I could destroy my dog remotely, but I also want to very seriously recommend both Texts From Dog (every moment of it is pure genius) and Hyperbole and a Half‘s blogs titled Dog (in which the author administers an IQ test to her dog) and Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving, in which the Simple Dog discovers she’s magical and can make food, and the Helper Dog has a nervous breakdown. Both of these authors are seriously genius and I hope you will enjoy the ever-loving hell out of them. While you’re doing that, I’ll be over here, giving my dog Trudeau this IQ test…