Don't stare at Mamie
I have to say right off that Iâ€™m not much of a dog person.
Itâ€™s not that I donâ€™t like dogs. I just feel uneasy when Iâ€™m around them and Iâ€™m not sure where this stems from. I was never attacked or chased down by dogs as a child, never had any negative experience at all really. But when I encounter one, particularly a dog whose head is at groin level or a breed with an unfortunate killer reputation, I sense a deeply inbred intelligence, a yearning to dominate and challenge. Thereâ€™s an overwhelming feeling of being observed with an instinctual malice. Perhaps Iâ€™m wrong. Maybe they just want to play, to engage me as if I were a walking plaything. Or chew toy.
My friends, Henry and Frank own a pair of beautiful Border Collies named Mamie and Bess. They are devoted to them and as with most people who own dogs, treat and pamper them like they are their children. These are kind and loving relationships between dog and man but this â€˜dog bugâ€™ has never bitten me.
On a visit to Henry and Frankâ€™s house, my knock on the door is greeted with the double barking and ruckus of Mamie (May-me) and Bess as they barrel down the stairs to engage the intruder. Once they see itâ€™s me, they quiet down and allow me to peaceably enter. I too relax but still entertain a lingering memory of Frank and Henry telling me on first meeting the dogs, specifically not to stare at Mamie.
â€œDonâ€™t stare at Mamie,â€ they said in unison. â€œSheâ€™s had a history of snapping at peopleâ€™s faces. Itâ€™s a territorial thing. Something like that. Just ignore her.â€
Border Collies are very smart. I hear theyâ€™re very good at herding sheep, cows and the elderly. Henry said she hadnâ€™t ever hurt anyone. It was just a precaution. I began to wonder how she got the name â€˜Mamieâ€™. In the beginning, I did my best to stare at the ceiling fan if the dogs were in the room. Frank said I didnâ€™t have to go to such an extreme. He explained there was an easy way to tell the dogs apart. Though both dogs looked exactly the same to me, Bess had a white spot on the top of her head. Or was that Mamie?
My nervousness grew. Every once in a while, Iâ€™d drop my eyes and try to get a quick bead on where the dogs were. There... one was off in the corner of the kitchen, pretending to sleep, and the other... Christ! right beside my foot!, her muzzle barely touching my toe, eyes raised, fixed lazily on me. Boy, they were smart. Were they testing me? Gauging my every move?
Iâ€™ve heard that dogs can smell fear and if that was the case then I reeked of â€œEau Iâ€™m Bleedingâ€. This was ridiculous. I wanted very much to reach down and pet the beast (Good Girl!!) and put an end to my paranoia but then I realized I wasnâ€™t sure which dog it was. Mamie or Bess? White spot, no spot. I didnâ€™t want to examine or stare at her head trying to locate a spot. She might misinterpret this. Moreover, my heroic effort to connect would end in a snap with me staring at the pink stump of Spam that used to be my writing hand, which I had unwittingly used, in quick reflex to protect my face.
I entertained another approach.
â€˜So... does Mamie sleep a lot... back there in the kitchen?â€™
My voice was high and lilting like a young girl. Then I remembered once hearing that you should talk in a low voice around dogs. Or was it a high voice? Maybe that was around cows. No, a low voice for dogs. Yes that was it! Or did that sound too much like a growl? How about a normal voice.
â€œCome Mamie.â€ Frank said. â€œTime to eat.â€ Mamie darted from my foot, joined by Bess and tails wagging, devoured their bowl of meaty Kibbles.
â€œWeâ€™ll leave the collars and treats by the front door,â€ Henry said in a short instructional phone conversation. Doing this favor was privately a big step for me. I didnâ€™t tell them that I had some reservations about taking the dogs for a walk. Itâ€™s like when someone asks you to baby-sit his or her child for an hour. That I can handle, having a child of my own. With children, you can discuss, reason and if necessary, clobber to stay in command. Dogs are a different breed. A child may test your patience, but you know what, a dog can take your leg.
â€œWhat do you mean theyâ€™re gone?â€
It was my worst nightmare. Somehow, this simple task would end with the dogs getting loose and Iâ€™d be left, limp leash in hand, staring at the two faint dots disappearing on the horizon, the whoosh of the highway just beyond.
â€œHa! Gee, youâ€™ll never believe what happened!â€ Iâ€™d say, holding up my self-inflicted stump of pink Spam.
â€œI guess they really wanted their freedom! Those dogs sure were smart!â€
When I arrived to pick the dogs up for their walk, they came barking and hurling at the door. I quickly announced â€˜Walk! Do you want to go for a walk!â€™ an instruction Henry had suggested, at which point both dogs settled and calmly waited for the coronation of the collars. (Whoâ€™s the boss now?)
Out the door, they immediately proceeded to tow me along the path toward the beach, sniffing and peeing along the way. (Boy, were they strong!!!) There was no way that I was going to go to the beach where there was a good chance of meeting up with other dogs so I steered them around several houses and after much lurching and tugging, gradually made my way back to the house. Along the way, they had vacuumed the underside of every bush and examined every moving blade of grass and previous dumpsite around. I had nervously scanned the area, looking out for other dog-walkers. (Donâ€™t dogs attack each other when they get together?)
Once back inside, I uncollered them and dealt out the treats, all the while assuring them that Frank and Henry would be back soon to give them a â€˜realâ€™ walk. I was panting. I tossed a few extra treats down the hall. As they spirited after them, I quickly slipped out the door, locked it and went home.
â€œOh they were just great. No problem. Yeah, it was fun! Great exercise! They sure are strong dogs.â€
Dogs look to be a lot of work. I see my neighbors taking their various breeds for walks, several times a day. Our community recently installed â€˜Pet Wasteâ€™ stations for owners to use to clean up after their pets. Thereâ€™s one directly across from my house. Iâ€™ve never seen anyone use it other than a skinny, little rat-like dog that peeâ€™d on the post while its elderly owner squinted at the posted sign. Another neighbor owns two huge rectangle-headed dogs that stand a few inches above his shoulders. I donâ€™t know what they are, other than dangerous but I think he should be required to bring a wheelbarrow and shovel with him on his walks.
Last week, I ran into a kid who lives a few houses down from me. On the ground in front of him was what looked like a small white plush toy. It was about the size of a fluffy dandelion head.
â€œHey Chris. What you got there?â€
As I approached, the dandelion scooted toward me as if on tiny wheels and stopped abruptly when it bounced off the toe of my shoe. I reached down and picked up what appeared to be a little white dog.
â€œSheâ€™s only a couple of months old.â€ Chris said. He was kidding, right?
The dog was very tiny, its eyes a shiny black plastic. It made no sound. I turned it over looking for batteries.
â€œWow, that sure is a little dog!â€ I said. I put her back on the ground and pointed her toward Chris.
â€œHere Rosie!â€ Chris called. The dog just stood there. I nudged her with my toe and off she scooted, stopping a few feet from Chris. He walked over and picked her up.
â€œShe wears out easily. Sheâ€™s like a toy.â€
Itâ€™s a Saturday evening at Henry and Frankâ€™s house and Iâ€™ve had a cocktail or two. I find myself at ease in a chair and staring at Mamie. Is she still a challenge? Who has control here, the beast or me? My relaxed state of mind tells me to keep on staring. She wouldnâ€™t snap. Not now. I feel pretty sure that she knows me. Weâ€™ve bonded.
The dog doesnâ€™t hold my gaze, most likely bored by my presence, shifty frown and delusional mind game.
I smirk and allow a fleeting sense of superiority, then think that maybe, as usual; Iâ€™ve been staring at the dog with the white spot on her head.