Friday, November 6, 2009

A Little Brown Dog

What kind of dog is that? That is always the question. Never: Is she fast? (Why yes, I am.) Is she friendly? (Not as much as my face seems to declare.) May I pet her? (Must you?).

Perhaps What kind of dog is that? is simply the human equivalent of a canine sniff to see if someone is a socially acceptable person or one to quickly ditch.  Or maybe it is just polite a conversation opener to fill the air space—the only solid question a person can really have at the dog park.

A dog park is, quite frankly, a place where the dogs know each other a whole lot better than the people. Even asking a person’s name is practically forbidden at the dog park. Yet dog names are often requested and sometimes remembered (and who could forget Colt, Pickle, Gandalf or…wait for it…Turkey?) But dog park people remain blissfully anonymous to each other—week after week---remembered only by the dog to whom they are attached. No one knows where the people come from or what they do when they aren’t throwing balls or standing around in fields. Dog park talk starts and ends with, What kind of dog is that?

For some it is just an intellectual game. Flip through your brain-catalog of breeds—scrutinizing coat, color, conformation and behavior. Sorting, classifying… grasping at order in a chaotic world. And after awhile, the purebreds are pretty straightforward, with only rare surprises. Seen one Lab…seen one Golden... But who wouldn’t pause when confronted with the baby-moaning Basenji which cleans itself like a cat? (Honestly!)

More interesting, of course, are those of us who can’t be easily sorted and dismissed. A mixed breed might be the thoughtful results of Golden and Poodle---presented proudly by the owner as hybrid. Perhaps a bit more interesting than a straight-up purebred as one can try to discern which traits landed where. Even less designed dogs can have comfortingly easy explanations. He’s a Lab/Retriever/Boxer…she’s a Staffordshire Terrier(shhhh! Not a Pit Bull)/Chihuahua. Ah! I can see that.

But then there are the mutts. We are the blends of countless doggy encounters—most likely without human permission or planning. We are the dogs that intrigue and confound. She must be part Beagle—look at that face. Boxer, for sure, see that paw action? I see Pit Bull (puhleeeze). She’s gotta have Foxhound in her…Probably Lab. Who doesn’t have Lab in them? What kind of a dog is that?

If my Susan is in a comforting mood, she will answer, “She’s a Beagle mix.” If she feels mysterious, she will say, “We’re not sure. She’s from Kentucky.” In the mood for conversation, she’ll ask, “Hard to say. What do you think?” And when all is right in Susan’s world, she’ll just smile and reply, “She’s a little brown dog.”

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