Dear Readers: This only the first in my three part piece first published in Penmen Review, June 23rd. If you can’t wait to read the whole thing (I know how hard it is to wait sometimes… just go here).
You wouldn’t know me as Scottish since I don’t have red hair, a tam, or a kilt. But my cousins, who look just like me, drive sheep up and down the moors of Scotland, rounding up the wooly ones, barking, gathering strays together and bunching them up to move from pasture to pasture. Since you don’t have sheep, I try to make you proud of me in other ways. You picked me out from all my brothers and sisters and brought me home four years ago when I was only two months old, so we could work as a therapy team.
Today’s lesson is that all dogs, even therapy dogs, can do bad things. It depends on what they learn from people like you. This is a very weighty subject, even for a forty-seven pound dog like me. There are three paws of goodness and badness, according to me, Oliver. They are intent, behavior, and influence. I can be very organized, despite my hair which is shaggy and my personality which is very excitable. For example, when I’m on the job, I am a sight to behold, heeling next to you and watching you for cues, smiling at everyone who needs therapy. But, before I get carried away telling you how wonderful I am, I promised to explain my three-pawed philosophy on the moral virtues of dogs. There are only three instead of four paws because I like to leave room for learning. I’m only four years old, so I think I will learn more before I leave you. I follow each paw with a little treat for you: my (Oliver’s) advice.
Paw One: Intent? Take me, for example. I almost always intend to be good. I’m a good dog who can do bad things. When I’m bad, it is not necessarily my intent to be bad, just to get what I want, and sometimes, I believe, what you want too. I say necessarily because sometimes, I admit, I know I’m being bad and I think it will make you laugh. I say I believe because when I steal your shoe and run away, sometimes you laugh. I can’t hold both of your shoes in my mouth at the same time, but what I really intend is to ask you to put on both of your shoes and take me for a walk. Me, me, me. I know you don’t like my mouth on your shoe, but when you laugh once in awhile, I want to steal your shoes over and over. If I don’t know when you’re going to laugh or not, I keep trying. I love your laugh. It makes my tail stand up higher. When you say Drop it! I do. Eventually.
When I was a very small puppy, we were playing on the icy lake, and I snatched a poop bag with my teeth right out of your pocket. Full! I was just trying to be funny. You chased me and chased me and I ate it! You were very angry and took me to the vet and she gave me an emetic to make me throw up. You laughed and laughed and then you cried when she came out to tell you I was going to live, but that the poop smelled bad! Now you zip up your pocket with the poop bags all tied up in a knot inside. You learned that one fast!
I am still bad when I find an old chicken bone in the park. First I smell it, then I find it. Then I gobble it up as fast as I can. If you try to snatch it away, I growl. When you have tried to take it away, I have bitten you on the hand. Yes, that is very, very bad. I don’t intend to hurt you. But the taste of the chicken and the feel of chicken bones between my chompers combined with the sound of crunch, crunch! in my ears is absolutely too exciting for me and if you take away all three sensations at once, I am a different Oliver from the dog you know and love. I turn to look at the dog I have become and I barely recognize him. He shows his teeth at you and snaps and growls. He is very, very bad.
Oliver’s advice: Put your shoes and poop bags away where I can’t get them. Yes, put away all of my temptations. Don’t laugh at me when you think I’m naughty. I get mixed up about what you want.