28
Jun
08

Defending Territory

What is it about a dog that encourages people with no interest in each other under normal circumstances to interact with each other?

Since I have been dog-sitting these last few days for a traveling friend, I have earned all kinds of attention. Carrying a dog, puts one in an instant spotlight. I am not just the anonymous guy who wants to be left alone on his way around the block. I am A Guy with a Cute Little Dog. People come out of the woodwork to say hi — just not to me.

“You have a beautiful puppy,” a woman said on the sidewalk. Absent the dog, would she have thought to remark about the weather or stop to tell me my zipper is down? Hardly. The dog invites the niceties.

Even my surly neighbor, with her enormous, thuggish boyfriend, crouched down in the elevator on the dog’s first day in the building. “Hey, there,” she said allowing the dog to sniff her hand. When she asked me “What’s her name?” I counted the most words she had said to me in a year.

“Honey,” I said.

“Oh, how cute.”

“Yeah, she’s just visiting,” I said gamely but awkwardly, startled by the excitement I felt, hopeful we might speak more. Maybe she’s nicer than she seems, I thought.

But that was it for three floors.

Conversely, the harmless old guy on the subway had a lot to say as I held Honey on my lap in her stylish polka-dot carrier bag. “Is it a boy or a girl?”

“A girl.”

“She looks tired.”

“Yeah, she’s had a busy day.”

    Honey
Honey rides in style on the G train. Heh… “Honey on the G Train.” Sounds like the title of an urban porn film.

I realized for the first time the power of talking about yourself through your dog. I should try it more often. Honey’s not coming to work today. Honey doesn’t feel like doing the laundry. What I was really saying was that I was tired and didn’t want to talk. Don’t come closer to pet my dog, and don’t ask me questions about her. I am just minding her for a friend. Apart from her breed and her name, I don’t know much.

“I bet you she’s just going to go right to sleep when you get her home.”

“Hmmm.” With any luck, I thought, I will.

“How old is she?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“How old do you think she is?”

“I have no idea. Maybe three?”

He directly addressed Honey with various and sundry encouraging affectations, though I couldn’t properly hear him through the rasp in his voice and the din of the wheels on steel.

“May the wind be at your back and God hold you in the palm of his hand. That’s Irish wisdom,” he said to me after downing a tea-colored 50 mL bottle.

About as Irish as that whiskey, I thought.

Usually what I get is a “Mira! Perrito!” from small children as Honey races by on the sidewalk eager to sniff the next clump of weeds at the edge of a neighbor’s lawn.

I felt like a prick when a couple of parents clearly wanted me to stop with the dog, but I merely smiled and continued walking right past them even as they stopped so their stroller-bound child could see her. I just defer to the dog. She doesn’t want to stop, and neither do I. So I let her dictate the next move. Sorry, I’d totally stop, but my dog … well, you know how she can be.

It’s a strange feeling to interact with people while being invisible. A family with two small children was talking about the dog on the train the other day. The kids would wave and make funny faces at Honey while their ice cream cones dripped on the floor. Their parents said encouraging things to them en Español. And every time I looked up, the kids turned away, looking embarrassed, and the adults stopped talking. Turn away, and they burst into action. Look up, and silence.

My cat doesn’t care how big Honey is or what her carrier bag looks like. Her primary concern is the strange new intruder.

She outweighs the dog by at least 50%, and Honey is scared of her. She won’t walk past her. We keep them separated, but Mukau camps out at the doorway of the spare bedroom where we keep the dog, guaranteeing that she stays there.

They get along fine, as long as they stay out of each other’s way, but sometimes out of the clear blue Mukau just gets it into her head to mess with the dog. I was giving the cat some extra attention one day thinking she may be getting resentful of our houseguest, and in the middle of a hearty belly scratch, she leapt to her feet, darted across the floor, and started hissing and batting at poor Honey. It’s like, “Ooh, that’s good. Up a little bit. Up. Yeah, right there… Ohhh… Oh — wait a minute. Sorry, there’s um… this thing… that I, um… forgot to do. Be right back. Won’t take me a minute. Just gotta scratch this dog’s eyes out.”

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