We learn from one another


Of the two dogs, Teddy has the most to say. He is naturally outspoken, and he doesn’t confine himself to subjects with which he is familiar. It’s a natural characteristic of the pug, I suppose, because of the breed’s historic association with the exalted and particularly with royalty of Asian and Western sorts. Although he is really a trinket of an animal, he thinks he’s a trinket with a high purpose. He combines a relentless determination to go and see whenever he imagines that something new and unexpected has popped up. It might be his own reflection in the glass door or a bird or a squirrel, it doesn’t matter, he’s off, leaping from whatever piece of furniture he’s claimed for a perch. And, on the run, he talks ceaselessly about the impending action. “I just saw an elephant on the porch” he has explained to me on several occasions. “Get over here. Are you going to put up with such intrusions?”

I don’t indulge his delusions. I say, “Don’t be silly, it’s the UPS man.” But, my words don’t penetrate. He’s a tiny missile with a mission.

Teddy does not think tininess is a disqualifier. He thinks he’s a necessary ornament whose opinions are dazzling and indispensable.

He is not a fighter. He feigns amiability with most dogs he meets on our daily walks. But, he is not inclusive. He is dearly fond of other pugs, who generally seem to respond in kind. “That’s a good looking pug,” he’ll say, though I can tell by the slant of his eyes that he has added to himself, under his breath, “Not as good looking as I am, but who is?”

It’s about the same with people though curiously paradoxical. He is very fond of people, the whole species in a general sense, not little people in particular. He adopts big people who are exuberantly fond of him, and offer treats. To him they’re people pugs, though outsized. He disdains those adults who are indifferent to him. Doesn’t give them the time of day. The husband of a friend of ours whom Teddy admires gets barely a nod. I can hear him, as we say goodby to them at the door, whisper, “Where’d she get that dud?

When the television news was full of stories about the First Family’s second First Dog, another Portuguese water dog, Teddy was unimpressed. After all, in his mind he’s the first dog of all dogs and the consort of queens, not politicians. Besides, as I’ve suggested, his favorites are little dogs with little hair. “They remind me of mops,” he said of such examples of canine royalty. “They are undignified” is his judgment of big, curly haired, gamboling dogs, no matter what the temporary inhabitants of the White House or any other house might think.

Teddy is not too proud to accommodate himself to a lot of hair in the form of Diesel, who is an English mastiff of generous proportions and Teddy’s partner in filth. I’ve noticed Teddy sniffing Diesel’s sleeping form trying to discover which end was which and what was the sum of it all. As offputting as Teddy can be, he’s dedicated to his association with Diesel. When Teddy leaps from the sofa yapping a warning about an intruder, he looks over his shoulder to see if Diesel’s alert and rumbling in his wake. “Move it, buster. It’s for real this time,” he says.

Diesel is judicious, not impetuous. He thinks it over. He has let himself be fooled by Teddy many times, and now he pauses to weigh the pros and cons. He wants to be there if there is something to be there for, but he’s on to his little buddy’s crackpot ways. He’s not opinionated, but he keeps his own counsel.

Unhappily, over so many years some of Teddy’s imperiousness has made an impression on Diesel, and he’s begun to speak out. For instance, his habit from a youth was to leave the path to bulldoze his way into the woods to do his business. Now, he doesn’t move so well and he knows the brambles and poison ivy will trip him up. So, he may get down to it by the side of the road. He is always happy in his work, and he lets me know when the urge has arrived. But, his long observation of Teddy’s arch and impertinent behavior has led Diesel to try a little chain of command stuff himself. I hear him rumbling, “Hey, big boy, get over here.”

Teddy marks that same moment on the trail with a little touchdown dance, whose implications I understand very well and accept.

I am very proud of my environmentally sound re-use of the blue plastic sleeves in which The New York Times arrives, to clean up after the boys who watch with smug satisfaction.