February 19, 2019

Of Dog and Man

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

My wife keeps Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.  Large and brown, affectionate and protective, they’re far superior to mere husbands.  For one thing, they’re trainable.  They sit when told, stay when ordered and shut up on command.

All except one, anyway.

His name is Abe.

Abe is 9.  He’s a large, good-looking dog.  He was anyway before a thyroid condition ruined his coat, a permanent, too-happy smile panted across his face and a perplexed look invaded his eyes.

He was too obviously male at that point.  My wife neutered him and gave him to me.

Initially though, she had high hopes for him.  Much the same way, before we married, she had high hopes for me.  Unfortunately, he proved to be ― I wouldn’t say so much intellectually challenged but, yes ― singularly inept.  Certainly, he isn’t what anyone expected.

As a puppy, he knocked out his two lower canine teeth running flat-out into his kennel door.  It knocked him onto his butt.  He sat back, surprised, his mouth bloody, a startled expression on his face.  Where did that come from?  Come on!  Has that always been there?

Since then, he’s determinedly gummed that galvanized chain-link, drooling over the zinc coating, gradually wearing it down.  Licking the rust off when it appears, adding new layers of slime daily.  If he lives long enough, he’s going to have licked that fence.  Literally and figuratively.

I can only be impressed by his determination.

As an adult, he refuses to give up a toy, even to catch a biscuit.  It’s comical, seeing him sitting with all the other dogs, tail wagging, eyeing the hand dispensing the treats.  When it’s his turn, the biscuit bounces off the toy in his mouth and onto the floor where another dog snatches it.

Abe snuffles eagerly, searching in vain.

We laugh.

I scratch his ears.  “Hammerhead.”  I grab the toy and slip him a biscuit on the sly.  He chews loudly, the crunching alerting the other dogs.  I have to pass out another round of biscuits.  I think about him while I do it.

The actual transfer of ownership came when Wendy pronounced him, “Untrainable.”

I argued with her.  “He learned the kennel door was there,” I pointed out.  “It just took serious impact to carry the message.”

“Oh, John.  I can’t go though that sort of gymnastic, teaching simple concepts.”

What can you say in response?  That Abe and I have that in common, as well?  Sometimes it takes way too much to get through to me, too.

Regardless, the truth is that Abe and I have become the minority party in this household.  Look at voting blocks:  Wendy has at least eight dogs.  The number at home varies.  But six are female.  Our cows are ― of course ― female.  We don’t own a bull.  (I’m glad.)  The sheep ― ewe guessed it ― are girls.  The hens (10), are all ladies.  There is one rooster.

So, with only Abe, two cats, the rooster and myself, representing the masculine point of view, this is a very lopsided household.

That means the lopside wins.  Every time.

It also means that Abe and I spend a lot of time ― together.  We get kicked outside ― together.  We end up working in the garage ― together.  When we’re allowed back in the house, into the good graces of the women for the occasional night, we do it ― together.

In fact, Abe and I just looked at each other across the office this morning.  “We were out-voted again last night, Buddy.”

He rolls his eyes and wags his tail.

“Isn’t it curious how the genders age?” I ask him.  “In this household, we don’t grow any smarter.  We have the same old disagreements, over and over.”  I lean back from my keyboard and wonder aloud, “Maybe we’re just so used to them, they no longer bother us.”

He gets up and comes over.  I scratch ears and finish, “And the men keep losing.”  I grin and add that all-important addendum, “Together.”