I don’t really like dogs.
When my boss at Coqui Prose purchased team t-shirts with our names on them, it was a no-brainer: instead of my name, mine reads “Crazy Dog Lady.” At least once a week I initiate a serious conversation with my husband about adopting or fostering “number 5” (my current pack is comprised of 4 Belgian shepherd dogs – 3 malinois and a groenendael). I already have a name picked out for the next dog… there is no question about there will be a next dog and another one after that. So what’s all this nonsense about not really liking dogs?
It might not be entirely true. I like dogs well enough. But not enough to share my life or my home with them. I came to this realization the other morning, as I took care of the daily dog walk with my pack. Exercising my pack is a multi-hour adventure – every day we all need a couple of hours of fresh mountain air, and the exercise of throwing our bodies up and down several hundred feet of elevation change. My dogs are never on leashes for these walks. There is no owner–pet dynamic. We stick together and they obey me but it isn’t a strict hierarchical relationship. I listen to them and consider their ideas, and as often as not, one of them determines where we walk. I’m not in charge unless I need to assert my will, but most of the time I don’t so I don’t.
Today I stopped briefly to pluck at my alpha bitch’s coat – she’s blowing her coat now and I was pulling out the huge tufts because I’d rather they come out here than on my living room floor. I got engrossed. Easy to do – her fur was soft and warm and it was bloody cold out. She loves being touched and was writhing around like a 65 lb. greased marlin on a line, getting vertical zoomies from being tickled, I suppose. When I finally said “ok, that’s it,” I looked up and realized that all my dogs had been standing still, waiting for us to finish. Not surprising maybe, but given that no one is leashed and there are tons of compelling smells, and chipmunks everywhere, it is noteworthy. All the more so since I didn’t request that they wait.
Winter is my favorite season. The snow is the key that unlocks a world I cannot know the rest of the year. The snow is the blank slate upon which all is written in a language I can learn. The learning and the discovery is pure magic. The dogs’ noses and Jacobsens organs read and process this language all year long, but I am only able to glean what I can from tracks and signs left on that pure white canvas. Yesterday we tracked coyotes – three of them used some of out habitual trails the night before, as freezing slush fell. The tracks were deep, icy, and perfect, lightly dusted with this morning’s snow. I think I love my dogs as passionately as I do in part because they look, at a quick glance, a bit like coyotes.
There is a wildness and a competence about my dogs that I believe takes them just that little bit beyond the definition of dog. I look at them and I see no trace of cute, no softness. They are carnivorous predators that have been domesticated enough to do our bidding, but looking at my dogs, you can see the vestiges of other canines, wolves or coyotes. My dogs are cute the way a shark is cute. You may be impressed or horrified, but you are reacting to power and potential. I don’t seek “cute.” I don’t want to live with cute. Out in the woods, where I go every day, where there are bears, coyotes, and according to some, mountain lions, cute isn’t useful. I select my companions based on their ability to take care of themselves and me in an environment that isn’t always friendly.
Most dogs would not be well-suited to living with me, nor am I a good choice for them — sharing my particular brand of laissez-faire dog training and ownership would not be safe or wise for many dogs. I am impressed with what other people do with their dogs – dog sports or the working dogs are impeccably trained and amazing at what they do. Therapy dogs and service dogs are an incredible gift to their humans and the bond they develop is poignant and makes my throat ache with joy at the sweetness of pure canine generosity of spirit. But it isn’t for me. Engaging in those activities would put me squarely in the midst of dog people and lots of dogs… and I don’t like dogs.
I don’t like fussiness and I don’t like gear. I don’t like spending money, and I don’t like shopping. I don’t like the trappings that come with dog ownership. I don’t like training blogs or dog park rants about bullies. I don’t like seeing the hundreds of shelter photos of urgent dogs every day. I don’t like arguing breeder versus rescue (a false dichotomy, in my opinion). I don’t like books about dogs, fiction or non fiction. I don’t even like dogs in television shows or movies (although there is one very significant exception – cough, Person of Interest, cough).
But I love – no, it’s beyond love – my dogs. I love lying on the floor with them, rubbing their bellies, and I love running through the woods with them. I love seeing them push themselves to their limit, using all their senses and all their strength. I love the edge they play, and the way I need to be right there with them, assessing the level of danger at almost every moment. I let them go deeper into that danger than I think most people – no, most dog owners – would think prudent. We teach each other. We learn from each other. We push each other. And ultimately we keep each other just on this side of safe.
Maybe I do like dogs. Maybe what I don’t like is being a human. With my dogs, I can almost be one of the pack.