When I was a kid, choosing an animal companion was simple. Selection took place in a variety of ways, none too complicated. Sometimes it was the adoption of a stray. Or by inheritance – a family member asking to take care of their beloved while on vacation, then conveniently failing to pick them back up.
A more sophisticated method was a visit to the local SPCA. I felt so cultured with my older sisters there, strolling past kennels full of dogs, judging each one’s character. Like a vintner in his cellar, drawing a sample from a barrel with a that tool that looks like a turkey baster, analyzing his product’s aroma. Only, these musky kennels with dank concrete floors summoned a different odor. They housed an eclectic mix of animals, large and small, short-haired and furry, napping and barking. We expressed wisdoms such as, “His ears are too floppy,” or, “I like the way that one wags its tail.” We’d usually settle on a German shepherd or black lab mix, though all appeared as if cobbled together by Congress.
Then we’d take it home and let Darwin figure out if it suited our family. You see, we lived on a farm. There was no such thing as leash laws. In our family culture such restraints were considered inhumane. Dogs had the run of field and forest. It was heaven.
If they visited the neighbors – let me quickly explain for city-bound readers: A neighbor qualifies as anyone the next field over. That could mean a half-mile to ten. But for a dog, crossing such distances was like ambling to the other side of a room. Neighbors were kind and would call if our animals overstayed their welcome. Mom was always nearest the phone when the phone rang, usually during dinner.
“Digger is over here. The kids have had a great time with him all afternoon, but he needs a ride home now.”
Mom would nod toward Dad. He’d drop his fork, mutter a few obscenities, then hop into the car. Upon return, sufficiently scolded, the dog would slink through the door, head bowed, pretending to be sorry. The family would return the gesture, feigning anger by shaking fingers and speaking in deep tones, but I’d feed him scraps under the table. That’s one lovely thing about dogs – they erase all evidence of Mom’s eggplant casserole.
But that is where Darwin’s theory of natural selection proved true. Did you catch it? Digger passed. Any dog whose karma melded nicely with others would survive. But if one was mean-spirited, neighbors would still be neighborly. The conversation would just go a little differently.
“Digger is over here again.”
“So sorry. What about Rex? Is he with Digger?”
A throat clearing. “No. Haven’t seen Rex for a bit.”
“Oh. You guys OK? I heard shots across the field.” Continue reading “Blog Post by David McCaleb”