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Doggie thoughts

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People ask if I’m going to get another dog. The answer is—I don’t know.

It’s a matter of on-the-one-hand, and on-the other. I want another dog because I want a companion to share my home and life with, the way Gus shared it with me. He was more than my companion, he was my best friend, the closest thing to God I witnessed in any living being I knew, human or animal.

But there are things about having a dog that I don’t miss: the stains on the carpet, walking him in the cold rain, and being constrained in my travels. If I went to San Francisco to hang out with friends, I was limited in my time because I always needed to get back to my dog. It’s pleasant not having that hanging over me.

I’ve been looking at the websites of the local animal adoption agencies: the East Bay SPCA, Berkeley Human Society and a few others. There’s not much out there in the way of adoptable dogs, unless you’re a fan of middle-aged pit bulls, which I’m not. Apparently, during the pandemic an isolated, lonely public snatched up adoptable dogs at a historic pace, and naturally the cutest ones went first. So even if I was amenable to having another dog, I can’t find one.

When I’m out walking around Oakland, I notice every single dog I see. Big ones, little ones, puppies, seniors, black and brown and white ones, short-haired and curly-haired. I never used to notice the local dogs the way I do now. They all have one thing in common: the way they walk. Dogs are so self-contained, in Whitman’s words. So proud to strut down the sidewalk. Usually the dog is in the lead, pulling the owner along by the leash. (With Gus and me, it was the opposite.) I admire the erectness of a dog’s head and shoulders, the inheritance of a wolfen past of dominating the plains and forests. I love the way dogs walk—that sturdy, confident little trot, like the gait of a fine thoroughbred. And when I see a dog stop and gaze up at its owner’s face with that mix of love, devotion and awe, it’s too much. I’m jealous.

Still, I can’t convince myself to commit. My age is another limiting factor. How much time do I have left? It would be horrible to adopt a dog and then keel over three days later. Not that I would mind being eaten by my dog, but it would be very hard on the poor creature. What would become of it?

I Google “sayings about dogs” and each one strikes a chord. “Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” “The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven not man’s.” “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” “Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day.” And one of my favorites: “You can usually tell that a man is good if he has a dog who loves him.”

There’s a lot that’s wicked and disreputable about the human condition, but one wonderful thing our ancestors did was to domesticate dogs (which may have been due as much to the cunning of wolves as to any humanitarian impulse in men). When that first wolf cum dog crawled into bed with that first human parent, perhaps 30,000 years ago, and both found the experience agreeable, human life changed forever…in the best possible way.

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