Today at the dog park, it occurred to me that the reason I write about dog park politics (aside from the human politics!) is that I’m fascinated by what dogs reveal about human nature.
Here you see Cody, the husky, and Red, the hound, playing king of the mountain. Just moments before, these two dogs and Noah were trying to climb a tree where a squirrel chattered high in the branches. Moments after this picture was taken, Cody and Red were racing across the park with a young puppy, whom Cody subsequently took down, probably in the same way that wolves do in the wild- grab neck, flip onto back, sever carotid. Except that Cody never bites down hard anything to sever anything. This is how some domesticated dogs play. By then, Noah was chasing a ball that Rob had tossed him. That’s how he plays- balls, Frisbees, toss, fetch, retrieve. But he does it in his own time, at his own pace, he can’t be rushed or pushed.
So I’m watching all this, taking it in, and talking with Colleen, the official dog whisperer of the park (owns three dogs and usually brings two or three others to the park that she’s dog sitting) about her decision to move back to Michigan, where she’s from. If Colleen were a dog, she would be a younger version of her Belgian Shepherd, Thunder. He’s a big, gentle dog, more bark than bite. Everyone knows him. Every time he sees any dogs in his pack in disputes, he lumbers to his feet and hobbles toward them, his hoarse bark warning them to back off, to just break it up or he will start biting and snapping.
Right. Like Thunder would do that.
While we’re talking, a young border collie – whose name is June Bug -circles through the park, a beautiful little thing looking for something to do, searching for a task to accomplish, a goal to achieve. Her owner is a young woman with a toddler – a boy – hurrying after the border collie, and a baby in a papoose on her chest. “June needs a ball or a Frisbee,” I remark.
“She’s our fourth border collie and different from the ones we’ve had before.”
She starts talking about the differences and I’m thinking of Cassie’s border collie, Willow, and Bill’s border collie, Connie. These two dogs are tireless workers. Toss a ball or a Frisbee, and they can outrun a Greyhound, and you’ll have to toss and toss for hours to satisfy these dogs. They are bred for tasks.
In this pic, Willow is the black and white dog behind Noah.
Once a week, Connie and Bill take their border collies to a sheep-herding facility several hours north of here. And this is where their DNA kicks in, where the thing for which they are bred really shines. I’m glad we don’t have a border collie. I’m delighted that Nika is a short fur border collie mixed with a lab, but admit that I am fascinated by border collies. At some level, border collies speak to who I am.
I am happiest when I have a task, a goal, a purpose. If there’s a deadline on top of that, so much the better. If I were a dog, I would chase that ball, that Frisbee. I would herd those sheep, I would yearn for a goal and purpose.
Tasks, goals, they seem to be key for border collies. Cassie, for instance, leaves Willow at home when she goes to the barn every day to take care of Tami Hoag’s horses. But she makes sure that Willow has tasks. “Every morning, I create a treasure hunt for him. I hide little treats through the apartment, with a big treat promised at the end – a marrow bone or an older marrow bone that I’ve filled with peanut butter and hidden somewhere.”
Wow, I thought. Lucky Willow. Not only does he get to sheep herd once a week, but he has a daily treasure hunt. This is my kind of world.
And so my epiphany was ultimately simple: I am a border collie. Rob is a golden retriever. Our daughter is a cross between the two, a hybrid like a labradoodle – labrador/poodle mix -that you might call a collie retriever or a golden border. I’m not sure what this insight means in the larger scheme of things. I don’t know how it may work itself into my fiction. Dogs, after all, are not humans and the way we humans actually interact with each other MAY BE more complex. Note the MAY BE.
Dogs works out their issues in the park. We humans work out our issues in daily life. But it always comes back to the central question: aren’t we all hybrids of one kind or another? Don’t we somehow make it all work?