You Are a Dog
Life Through the Eyes
of Man's Best Friend
by Terry Bain
You are somewhat embarrassed. An entire book? About you? What must have they been thinking?
They call you Dog. They call you Rex and Rover and Spike and Ishmael. You are Clive and Spot and Sparky and Belvedere and Lucy and Gracie and Princess. And you are none of these. You are just you. You have only one name for yourself. It has no translation into speakable, human words, but if it were translated into speakable, human words, it would come closest to "You."
You do not identify yourself with the other names that have been given you (Jack, Bootsie, Stanley, Sadie, Blackie, Patrice), by your people or by others (Ruff Ruff, Pretzel, Duchess), though you do recognize that these are meant to be names, of a sort, but in that troubling language that makes little sense to you. You wonder, sometimes, how people communicate at all.
These are some of the names that have recently been given you that, though not your true name, are human approximations, and you admit that though humans are confusing and confounding, they are worth having, so you respond to these names immediately and enthusiastically. Here they are. Not all of them. Just some of them. Here:
Not actually a name so much as a designation, your people, or some other people who are not your people, will nevertheless call you this upon occasion, and it is one of the names you recognize. She Who Seldom Drops Food on the Floor might say something like this: "You are a dog." You are sitting before her, waiting for her to drop food on the floor. You are in the kitchen, examining the process of slicing cheese. She Who Seldom Drops Foodon the Floor is slicing cheese and placing the slices into sandwiches for the children (and sandwiches for the children are always a good source of found or otherwise coerced food).
She does not throw you a slice of cheese. Instead she crosses the kitchen and says, "You are a dog." She comes directly toward you, and you watch her closely. "Move," she says. She pushes you out of the way because she knows that if she doesn't, you will continue to wait there and she won't be able to get to the sink. When she returns to the cutting board from the sink, you are sitting instead in front of the cutting board. "Ack," she says. "I said," she says,"didn't you hear me . . . ? Go lie down. I'm not giving you any cheese." She pushes you again-a nudge, actually, with her knee-and tosses a corner of cheese into the dining room that she knows you will follow. Apparently you did just what she wanted you to do. Cheese is your favorite and most treasured reward.
They sometimes call you Pup. You pretend not to know that the name is diminutive, that it means anything other than respect and love. Which is, of course, exactly what it means. You can tell by the intonation that the name is diminutive, that it is affectionate. Especially when He Who Calls You Pup calls you Pup, when he rubs your head and calls you Pup and then scratches your jowls and puts his face in your face, at which time you lick his cheeks and nose (and he often allows this), still scratching, still making the sound that comes from somewhere deep inside him that means, "love love and love." He can call you whatever he likes and you will lick him and he will feed you and call you Pup.
Of all the names. What does this mean? You don't like the sound of it, though you try not to show that you don't like the sound of it. Seldom will you show any kind of offense to this name. Seldom, actually, do you show any kind of offense to anything, except when offense is first offered by a cat. Then you will return the utmost offense to the cat by ignoring her. The cat does not understand this as offense, though, because cats, though beautiful,are crazy.
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