Let's Take a Day Away from Anger and Talk about Dogs

Oh, it's the very last day of the year, and I'm just not going to write about that damned fiscal cliff thing because it makes me so angry, and I don't feel like ending the year on that note. I want one day off from angry, if you don't mind. Maybe it will help to start the new year on a less disconsolate note.

See also: - I Swore Off Pets Forever, and Then These Two Came Along

Help what, you might ask. Help me. Numero Uno. As for you, you'll have to help yourself. This is about cheering myself up. So what to talk about? My dogs, I guess. What's the harm? It's New Year's Eve. Nobody's going to read this anyway.

I have a column in this week's "print product," as we now depressingly describe the actual newspaper, about two rescue dogs, Dorothy and Penny, who joined our household this year. I left out a couple details in the story, so I will fill those in here.

Dorothy is my dog, some kind of Texas cow-dog who looks and acts like she could be mixed up with dingo and coyote; Penny is my wife's dog, a little white terrier mix with huge ears and black patch over one eye. Dorothy is a ringtail tooter who can jump into a mud puddle up to her shoulders, shake it off and come out bone dry. Penny is a sweet little cotton ball who needs to be blow-dried after every wetting.

Why do I have a dog named Dorothy, especially since that was not the name given her by the rescue place? Believe me, I wish I knew. It's a decision that was kind of expropriated by my wife before I knew what was happening. It's a very bad name for a dog, especially this one.

I was out in Quitman in Wood County in northeast Texas with both dogs in my pickup, and Dorothy got away from me. That was right after we got them. I don't think she would run now, but she did a little bit that day, which meant that I had to walk-run through Quitman yelling, "Dorothy! Dorothy! Come here right now, Dorothy!"

People in East Texas do not name their dogs Dorothy. They name their dogs after their power tools, stuff like Makita and DeWalt. Unfortunately I also had on shorts and sunglasses that day. Old men do not wear shorts and sunglasses in Quitman. So a strange old man in shorts and sunglasses scuttling down the side streets yelling, "Dorothy, come back, Dorothy," is probably somebody you should call the sheriff on.

Anyway, I got her back in the truck and got the hell out of Dodge before getting arrested on suspicion of terrible things. All the way home I complained to myself about the name and vowed to change it. I thought I might call her Blackanddecker. But when I got home, I did a test first.

I let her run to the kitchen to eat and drink water. When her back was to me, I said her name softly. Dorothy. I waited until she turned back to the bowl, then whispered it again. Dorothy. Each time she popped up from the bowl and peered at me with those dingo eyes, incredibly focused and alert.

How does a dog learn that it has a new name? What does that name say to the dog? If they can have human-given names, would that not indicate that they must have dog names when no humans are around? Does she call herself, "Breaks-necks-of-small-animals?" So perhaps Dorothy is not so much a name as a special spoken bond of some sort between the human who calls it and the dog who responds. I decided not to mess with it.

She does break the necks of small animals. She got away from me in an alley once, chased a pigeon, leaped up and nailed it out of the air at about 4 feet. As she landed with it back on all fours, she gave it one quick snap and broke its neck, then threw it down dead as a doornail on the tarmac. She sat behind it and looked up at me wagging her tail like, "Pretty sweet, eh?"

Both dogs already had been trained never to touch, growl or even stare at my wife's backyard chickens. Penny, who also got loose in the mayhem, ran to the dead pigeon, froze in her tracks with her ears flat and eyes rolled up in her head, an expression I interpreted as, "Oh my God, now the mental case has killed a chicken! We're both gonna die for this!"

She took off running, and Dorothy and I barely caught up with her and headed her off before she plunged into traffic. I had to reassure her for several minutes that I wasn't going to kill her. Dorothy sat by, panting and looking for more birds, as if to say, "Miss Priss is all jacked out of shape again, eh?"

But Dorothy does not molest my wife's chickens. She started to do it, of course, on her first day with us, and she got chased around the yard and the house by a very angry shrieking lady who apparently put the fear of God in her for all of life. Now if Dorothy steps into the backyard and sees that the chickens are loose, she runs back into the house, rather subject herself to temptation. Penny naps in the sun and lets the chickens walk on her.

So how does a dog learn in one incident that chickens must never be bothered in any way, but it's perfectly OK to run down pigeons and snap their necks? It's a distinction that even I, a human, find elusive.

All I can conclude is that they want to know. They reach to know. They reach for their names, as they reach to figure out what humans want of them. Not to be too anthropomorphic about it, but it's perfectly conceivable they do all that for the food and shelter. So what? I still want to know how mere dogs can figure out stuff like that.

OK, no more dogs. Ever. This was a moment of weakness on the last day of the year. I promise to spend New Year's Day sharpening my knives, which, of course, I would never use on dogs. Those are strictly for people.