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What I’ve Learned from Dogs… It’s “a pack thing.”

By Antsy McLain
As I write this, a steady rain taps on the window to my left, and distant thunder promises more of the same for the day. A gray Schnauzer sits a few feet away as I write this. He’s 6 years old now, approaching mid life, and seems to be content to be anywhere I am, doing anything I want to do. This, I’m sure you agree, is not the kind of relationship we can have with other humans.
We’re about to go “bye bye” to the store on the corner, so I can’t write for long. I have already said the words bye bye, and therefore set him at his hyper alert state, giddy at my slightest movement, and ready to bolt toward the door. He just whined a little, his low mournful whine that sounds so human, I’m thinking this sentence may not even get finished before I have to leave. (There. A few Snausages. He’ll be fine for a few more paragraphs.)

As we drive to the store, I will crack the window and let him smell everything outside the car as we ride. His nose will add the tell tale streaks on the glass as he watches the world go by. I’ll see the streaks the next time I get in the car without him, and smile. I’ll tell myself I need to wash them off, but I know I won’t follow through with it.

I wrote the word ‘dog owner’ a few times above as way to describe myself, and it immediately felt awkward. It didn’t sound right because it’s inaccurate. Charlie found us, and we never “bought” him from anyone. I don’t think of myself as “owning” Charlie. He’s a part of the family, or more accurately, we belong to the same pack.

Our son Grant was playing outside our house with his friends, and Charlie strutted up to him, picked Grant out from all the other kids, and didn’t leave. The kids all played with him, but he hung out with Grant. It was the same later when he met the rest of the family.

He had a collar with a tag that said “Buddy,” and we called the number. He had gone missing three months earlier about 40 miles away. They told us they had already replaced him, and we could have him. They offered to mail us his papers — meaning his pedigree (they proudly announced he was AKC) — but never impressed with the papers or credentials of humans all that much, we didn’t see why having papers would make this good-hearted dog any more valuable to us than he already was, so we declined.

Grant renamed him Charlie. Being schooled in the art of incentives (at least in the human family), I set out to learn Charlies favorite things, and within days discovered Charlies’s incomparable talents as a ball retriever (only yellow tennis balls, I found out), singer, and cuddler. Like all dogs, he responds to treats and the imminent possibility of road travel. Come to think of it, my favorite people also hold travel and junk food in high regard, so maybe it is “a pack thing.”

I wrote the song with Charlie next to me. I thought of him in every verse. I’ve had many dogs in my 50 years, some of them very close to me, two of them were soul mates. When Moo Moo died, I cried in long, hard fits that left pieces of my soul in dregs along the backyard to where I buried her. Those pieces of me are still there.

But never have I connected to the soul of a dog like this moppy, gray haired barker at my feet. And never have I learned more from an animal.

But you know, they say when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. And maybe it’s me. Maybe I was getting in my way all along. Charlie was out there. Waiting. And when it seemed we were ready, he came loping up the street and made friends with Grant.

We thought he was just sniffing us out. But more likely he was saying, “Hey, let’s go on an adventure! With lotsa treats, tennis balls and road trips! It’ll be fun! And you just might learn something.”

OK, Charlie, ready to go “BYE BYE?” Oh, man. You should see him now. ha.

 

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