After a six-year hiatus from dog ownership, we got a puppy this summer. Her name is Luna. Luna makes sure I get my exercise from walks, tug games, chase, and other activities. I devote part of my day to helping her burn off energy. Maybe she keeps me young. More than anything, though, she opens up the neighborhood to us. Luna has one brown eye and one blue eye. She’s half cattle dog, part boxer, and part Australian shepherd. On walks, her unusual appearance and her puppyish behavior attract the attention of our neighbors, and although we are training her to ignore distractions, we’re actually happy to meet people this way – and their dogs, too. Luna loves to greet other dogs. She clearly belongs to a society of dogs, just as we belong to a society of people. Among the dogs she knows and likes are Seth, her very best friend, a German shepherd mix whom she greets by standing on two legs to hug him; Doc, the little Eskimo dog in the yard behind ours who seems to be in love with her; and Stewart, a handsome, well-trained pit bull whom she seems to look up to as a big brother. Through Doc, I got to talk to my neighbor for the first time. Stewart’s owner introduced us to our wonderful dog trainer (whose job it was, actually, to train us). And Seth comes around regularly with his person Laura, who is now good friends with my wife. Our dog’s network has extended our network.
Our previous dog was a pug named Arjuna. He was also popular, but strictly with humans, not with dogs. We met people through Arjuna, but he often preferred to be a lay-about – a warm couch potato, crafty and always scheming for food. When Arjuna was young, he’d look for opportunities to escape. My wife adopted him when she was still single. She wasn’t very watchful, and he could disappear for a while without her noticing. She’d go search for him around her apartment complex. One time she found Arjuna lying on a living room couch one building over, watching TV and eating popcorn with a couple of college kids. She apologized through the open sliding glass doors, and one of them said, “That’s okay! He’s our buddy. He stops by all the time!”
It was partly in reaction to Arjuna’s irrepressible independence that we chose this new dog. We wanted a trainable companion. Luna watches us in a questioning way, striving to understand what we want her to do. Arjuna was goofy. Luna’s habitual expression is that of a silent film star, namely, Buster Keaton. She never smiles, but stares with a serious, focused intelligence, reserved and almost sad. She’s even tempered. Although naturally a little bit stubborn, she’s persuadable. Her responsiveness heightens our sense of responsibility and encourages us to be more decisive. She gives our lives more order and meaning, and more physicality – the fur, the slobber, the doggy sounds and smells.
Left to our own devices, my wife and I spend a lot of time cogitating and daydreaming. When you bring a dog into the house, you make a kind of deal with nature, to meet the animal halfway, to acknowledge animal urges, to tame them in the dog and in yourself, to guide and direct, but also to be led back a little ways, back to the animal in you, into the cozy, grungy warmth of physical existence. That’s life in Dog World.