Oh, you poor cat owners. If you came home late tonight from a class, as I did, your pet probably greeted you with a meek “Meow” (if he or she even deigned to wake up). You then poured some kibble in a bowl, went on to prepare your own dinner, and now you and your cat likely are sitting in front of the TV, kitty contentedly purring on your lap.
How sad. You are missing out on the "joys" of dog ownership (note the ironic quotation marks.) Let me give you an example of what having a dog can add to your life. Specifically, a large mixed breed dog named Serena, a blend of energetic German Shepherd and mellow Labrador Retriever.
That blend isn’t much in evidence when I go to free Serena from her outdoor kennel, where she has been cooped up for all of two and a half hours. The liberators of Paris were not greeted with so much enthusiasm, believe me. Serena is bouncing up and down in the kennel even before I have the outside door unlatched, for she knows that when a light goes on downstairs, freedom is soon to follow.
I’m hungry. I’d like to eat while reading the Oregonian that I just picked up. No matter. My destiny is fixed as soon as Serena bounds inside and starts leaping around in the living room like a kangaroo on speed. For she knows that Brian-coming-home-at-night means play time, and she will not let me rest until Buddy Ball is taken out of the pantry dog toy box.
Buddy Ball, formally known as Buddy Glow Ball, is her favorite toy. It is large, a Shepherd/Lab mix mouthful. It is soft, offering the joyous simulation of chomping a furry baby bunny. And it glows in the dark after you shine a light on it. Which doesn’t mean much to Serena, but means an awful lot to me, since often I end up doing more of the Buddy Ball retrieving than our 50% supposed retriever.
To be fair to Serena, many nights she brings Buddy Ball back to within a fair approximation of where I threw it. If I don’t have to walk more than twenty feet to pick Buddy Ball up, as Serena dashes madly on to the next anticipated throw spot, I’m happy.
The nights I’m not happy are when a cat, or a deer, or any other animal with an unbelievably fascinating scent has wandered around our rural home not long before Serena and I venture out for playtime. For then we engage in our ritual Kabuki play, dog and man acting out the same roles night after scent-filled night.
I throw the ball into the darkness, helpfully shining my not-so-bright LED flashlight onto the distant grass and brush to aid Serena in her retrieving. Not that she needs this help, probably, since I suspect sound and smell are the senses she mainly uses to pounce on Buddy Ball.
Which she does. Until she is distracted by a more alluring, and sentient, prey potential. Cat! Deer! Close, for sure! I can catch it if I run fast! Now! Go, go, go!!! Serena bounds off on one of our trails, Buddy Ball in mouth. Briefly. Invariably she drops Buddy Ball not long into the chase, but far enough away so that she is out of sight in the no-streetlight country night.
“Where’s your Buddy Ball, Serena? Get your Buddy Ball! Come on, Serena, bring back Buddy Ball.” So goes my mantra, a dog owner pleading into a now dogless countryside. I can’t hear Serena. I can’t see Serena. I’m alone with my flashlight, acres of potential Buddy Ball dropping spots, and an irrational (because Buddy Ball is rarely lost for good) fear that, at $6 or more a pop, losing one Buddy Ball a night is going to seriously strain our family finances.
So I decide to start looking for the elusive Buddy Ball while waiting for Serena to return from her chase. I keep calling—“Come find Buddy Ball, Serena”—but with less vocalization.
For there comes a moment when I remember that if I can hear the cat lovers who live on the lot next to us softly calling “Muffy! Dinnertime Muffy!”, they can darn well hear me yelling, “Serena, come here, you worthless dog!” I don’t like the thought of them fondling Muffy as they stand on their deck listening to me call my disobedient pet. “I sure am glad we just have cats; Brian is coming in loud and clear tonight” the Mrs. surely is telling the Mr.
Eventually Serena comes back. I’m still searching for Buddy Ball where I’m guessing Serena dropped it. She sits on her haunches, tail wagging, tongue drooping out of a dog mouth that has a happy hot-from-the-chase expression. “Where’s Buddy Ball, Serena? Help me find Buddy Ball!” Serena now is as motionless as a stone Buddha. Serene, as (very) occasionally she lives up to her name.
I’m starting to get exasperated. This play time is not so fun for one of the players anymore. I keep on poking through the trees and brush, foggy dew falling off the leaves onto the back of my neck. It’s dark. It’s cold. And I haven’t had dinner yet.
I turn around to yell at Serena again. She seems to sense my darkening mood. She gets up, trots over to an entirely different part of the yard from where I had been searching, reaches down, picks up Buddy Ball in her mouth, and trots back to me, dropping Buddy Ball her habitual twenty feet away.
Serena looks at me as if to say, “This is as close as a half-German Shepherd is going to bring a ball, guy. If you want closer, you should have gotten a Border Collie.” I don’t care. I’m just happy to see Buddy Ball again, who had stopped glowing quite a while ago, the Buddy Glow Ball creators apparently not having tested their invention with a mixed-breed retrieving-challenged dog who lives in the country and is easily distracted.
I go over to Serena, give her a pat, and say “Good dog. You found Buddy Ball. Let’s go have some dog food.” I roll the ball one last time down our driveway toward the front door, Serena close behind. I wash her muddy paws with a garden hose, as Laurel has instructed me. I carefully wipe and dry them with a dog towel. We go inside. I fix Serena’s dinner: dry food, wet food, chopped broccoli, a sprinkling of her favorite white cheddar cheese.
“Food, food!” I say. Serena runs to her bowl. “Shake!” She half-heartedly raises a paw, which I grab as she lunges toward her dinner. I still haven’t had mine. But who cares? I’ve just experienced the joy of owning a dog. Who needs to eat when I’ve just been filled with such delight?