|in my own words|
|--by Mike Murray|
We humans tend to live in "before" and "after" worlds. In our minds' eyes, we see events in "pre" and "post" terms. You know, pre- and post-puberty; pre- and post-marriage (and for some, perhaps, pre- and post-divorce). For those unlucky enough to have contracted a serious illness -- and lucky enough to have survived it -- there are realities such as pre- and post-cancer.
Milestones and contrasts starkly delineate our progressions through life. People who've "owned" (for lack of a better term) more than one dog cannot help but compare and contrast. They cannot help but view present pooches through eyes that observed preceding ones.
One of the ways I define my own life involves such a canine comparison: I divide my existence into B.M. and A.M. segments. That is, Before Maggie and After Maggie.
I'd enjoyed the companionship of several dogs before Maggie, and I've enjoyed (am still enjoying) the company of one since. But it was my Maggie experience (living with her, and then living without her) that had the most profound impact on my understanding -- that helped me see things most clearly.
Before Maggie, I'd lived with mutts that ran the gamut in terms of temperament, intelligence, and disposition. Some were relatively sedate, others were rambunctious. Some were sharp as tacks (Zip Zip was almost too clever for her own good) -- others were less so. Some were affectionate but independent, others couldn't bear to be left alone for even short periods of time. Some got along with almost every other dog they met, others were feistier and less accepting of unfamiliar canines.
Then came Maggie. Magpie. (Pie, for short.)
Maggie was one of those dream companions who come along every now and then. An angel. Nearly perfectly disposed, she could be taken everywhere. She loved nearly everyone she encountered and, those few she didn't, she tolerated.
Smart, intuitive, and communicative to the Nth degree, she was a partner in the truest sense of the word. Whether on a jog through the park or a walk down a crowded street, she was a model of exemplary behavior. People routinely marveled at her wonderful disposition. They were drawn to her like magnets.
Silly souls that we humans can be, my wife and I began to fall victim to foolish pride. We began to muse in ways unspoken, "Gee, we must be wonderful dog owners. Look at what a terrific job we've done with Maggie." Or, if not quite that vain, we surely came to the same conclusion via indirection: "Those other people must not be as good with dogs as are we ...just look at their pooch's unruly behavior."
When Maggie passed away and we invited the next mutt -- Janna -- into our home, we were forced to confront the obvious truth: We weren't special; Maggie was.
Janna (Jannie, J-Bear, Booger -- just how many silly name variations does the average pet owner contrive?) is a delight. She's a dear companion and as affectionate as any creature I've ever known.
But she's also a force of nature. No Shrinking Violet she, subtlety is no part of her constitution. Where Maggie was physically playful, she was also graceful and controlled. Janna is brutish by contrast. J-Bear is one happy-go-lucky roughneck.
And where Maggie at least tolerated most other canines (if trouble broke out, it was almost always at the instigation of the "other party"), such is not the case with Janna. Janna "takes" to about half the dogs she meets; with the other half she is decidedly less gracious. Even with the ones with whom she becomes buddies, she usually feels the need to strive for dominance.
Jannie is an Alpha girl: a "ring-tailed bitch." (No, that's not a vulgar term. Kids, ask your parents to explain. But don't ask mom about some of her female colleagues at work; that's another story altogether. More on that particular phenomenon another day.) For now, suffice it to say that when a dog carries its tail high -- most particularly when it curls it tightly -- it's all about attitude.
Other dogs grasp the implication immediately. They know when they approach Janna that there will likely be some posturing, some "displaying," on her part. A low growl, a little raised fur, a few bared teeth -- all are probable at first meeting, during the hierarchy sorting-out period.
Whether other dogs choose to submit or to challenge in the matter of rank, they sense that Janna has an intense interest in the outcome. They sense that there will probably be a touch of "sound and fury" on Janna's part, signifying ...who knows what? We humans only partially understand the ancient, instinctual rituals canines engage in when making "friend or foe" determinations.
The bottom line is that we have to be more careful with Janna than we were with Maggie. Where Maggie sometimes yielded dominance to another, or simply presented an air of aloofness -- pretending to be not at all interested in such mundane matters as pecking order -- such is not the case with Janna.
J-Bear is a dear soul and a precious member of our family. But she is definitely not the angelic presence that Magpie was. (Neither, obviously, are my wife and I the stellar dog handlers we imagined ourselves to be.)
But so what? Dogs will be dogs, after all. That's plenty enough for me. And, whether you're living with a Maggie or a Janna (or something else altogether), I'll bet that's plenty enough for you, too.
Copyright ©2006 Michael F. Murray -- All rights reserved.