Underneath my yellow skin

Running with the dogs

eternal side-eye.
M’s proxy is judging you.

I am not a dog person. At all. I didn’t grow up with them except that the neighbor always had a dog, a golden lab or retriever, that they never really wanted, but thought they were supposed to have. They kept it outside almost all the time, and it barked constantly. It broke free from its tethers and bit my brother when we were in our twenties. He had to get many stitches, and that’s been my impression of dogs that has lasted ever since. I’ve known several great dogs, but I haven’t had to interact with them for more than a few hours. I’m visiting Ian and his fiancee now, and they have two dogs.

F is a mixture of black lab and hound dog, and she’s roughly eighty pounds. M is a Boston Terrier who is little, but fierce. She holds her own with F; in fact, she’s alpha as far as the dogs go. It’s funny to see F cavort around M, bothering her until M puts her paw down. Then, F immediately backs down and looks at her sister with large, beseeching eyes.

I was nervous meeting them because I don’t know what to do with dogs. Cats, I know. You chill out and let them meet you on their own terms, and it’s fine. Dogs? I had no idea. Did you try to befriend them? Did you do the same thing as cats? I simply did not know.

In reality, it was fairly simple–I followed their cues. With F, she immediately barked happily and jumped at me (not on me, but close), and I gave her plenty of pets. She snuffled happily and pranced around me like a dressage horse. She would follow me around like she was my personal guard dog, and it was kinda funny. M, on the other hand, hung back and just watched. I respected her and did not try to force the issue. I held out my hand, but when she ignored it, I backed off. In a fairly short amount of time, she came up to me and allowed me to pet her. She’s also licked my thigh (over my leggings) and followed me around a bit, too. In fact, Ian’s fiancee, T, commented she was impressed how bold M was being with me. I laughed and said it’s because I was treating her like a cat and respecting her boundaries.

It’s been good to exist with dogs for several days. They’ve taken away a lot of my fears about dogs even as I recognize that they are exceptionally sweet dogs. F is a big galoot at times, but she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. When she looks at me with her big, trusting eyes, I just want to cradle her from all the harms of the world. M, on the other hand, has a habit of rolling her eyes at her sister or give her a massive side-eye, which I think is hilarious. It’s also just the way her face is structured as Boston Terriers always look like their exasperated/worried. She also trembles, which makes me anthropomorphize her into thinking she’s anxious. She’s a mama’s girl and sticks mostly with T when T is home, but she’ll hang out with me and Ian when T is at work.

Another cute habit of M’s is that she enthusiastically licks my fingers, but from a distance. She’ll also demands pets from just outside my reach, and I’ll have to lean in order to skritch behind her ears. She sits like a proper lady when she’s in repose, and then she’ll do an epic side-eye, which is so at odds with her prim posture. She looks so tiny next to F, but she’s a solid twenty-five pounds. She’s dense (in terms of body build), and I love the way she clickety-clacks quickly across the floor when she walks. F kind of clambers as she walks, and she’s bodied me as I try to walk by her. She thinks she’s the size of Matilda when she is triple the size, and it’s funny to watch.

M is a wise old soul who is always observing everything around her. She is above the fray until she takes it into her head to troll her sister. She’ll give the eye, then go fetch the tug rope and taunt F with it. Then, they’ll play tug-of-war until M puts her paw down. She’ll put down the rope and just stand over it. F will look at it, but not dare to touch it. When she musters her courage enough to make a move for the rope, M body-blocks her and F runs off. It’s hilarious to watch because F could trounce all over M if she wanted, but she is convinced that M is her superior.

Ian and I went to visit Thistle and the stripeys at his folks a few days ago, and I was struck by how immediately comfortable I felt with them. I’ve hung out with Thistle several times, and we’re simpatico. She’s a very independent cat who does her own thing, and she’ll deign to be pet on her own terms–which isn’t very often. I hadn’t met the stripeys before, G and J (brother and sister), and they are very lovey-dovey cats. J came up to me immediately and rubbed all up on me. G sauntered in a minute later for his share. I had to smile when I was with them because they were my people! I mean, they’re cats, but you catch my drift.

a bucolic stroll.
F’s proxy enjoying life.

Back to the dogs. One night, F stayed with me after T and Ian had gone to bed. She laid on the couch as I typed on my laptop at the spare desk. Afterwards, I got up and expected her to go to her people. She didn’t, and I got worried. She’s very much a people-dog, and I didn’t think it would be usual for her to stay in a room by herself. When I went to the bathroom ten minutes later, however, she was gone.

The girls have accepted me as a friend, which is highly surprising to me. Then again, I have no basis for knowing how dogs work, so maybe this is not abnormal behavior. It’s been such a pleasant surprise having them around me, and it’s a reminder that what I think will happen won’t necessarily be the case. It reminds me of my last therapist when I was thinking about moving to San Francisco for grad school nearly twenty years ago. I spent half the session listing all the things that might happen if I moved, and my therapist finally cut me off. She said, “Minna, half the things you’re imagining will happen won’t, and you can’t imagine half the things that will happen.” It seems cliched (and it was), but it really hit home how much useless worrying I did to give myself an illusion of control.

Both of the dogs are so soft to the touch, and I love petting them. F has a loose coat, so it’s like she’s lost a ton of weight. It’s so much fun to move her loose fur around and make cooing noises at her. Both the dogs have shown me grace inĀ  way I didn’t expect. They have made me question my assumptions, which is a good thing, and they have brought joy to my life. I’m glad I met them and have gotten to spend some time with them. I’ll miss them when I go home.

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