it’s true, all men are bastards: when your dog falls in love with a fickle partner

by nikki meredith

Alice is in love. The object of her affection is Jasper, a hefty Labradoodle who looks more like a bear than a dog. They are both shaggy but otherwise they are a picture of contrasts. She’s a creamy 25 pounder; he’s chocolate and weighs 75 pounds. Every day when we pass Jasper’s house on our walk, if he isn’t home or if I don’t have time to stop, I have a mutiny on my hands. Alice emits a doleful cry and like a stubborn donkey in a cartoon, she puts the brakes on and no amount of cajoling will get her to move. Since I don’t want to drag her little butt along the sidewalk, the only way to keep going is to pick her up and carry her far enough away that she loses his scent. According to Jasper’s owner, Fran, when we have a scheduled play date and she announces it to Jasper, he posts himself at their front window and waits. As soon as he sees her, he literally jumps for joy and the two of them fall into each other’s forelegs.

They jump, they run, they twirl. They lick each other, they play tug-of-war, but even with all the rough and tumble, the boy is gentle with her and has been since she was a tiny puppy. It’s like watching Gérard Depardieu make chaste love to little Gidget.

Their trysts had always taken place at Jasper’s house so I decided it was time for Alice to host him: I invited him for a play date. Fran brought him over and after a little chit chat, went on her way. As soon as she left, Jasper planted himself so that he had an unobstructed view of the gate through which she exited; he did not move nor did he take his eyes off of the gate until she walked back through it an hour later.

While he sat, frozen in place, Alice employed all of her feminine whiles. She romped, she cavorted, she snuggled, burying her face in his fur. She put her forepaws on his head and then on his back, the way she’d done so many times before but he didn’t respond. When she tried to kiss him, he turned his face away from her. She was dead to him.

I was astonished. I was mystified. I was hurt.

I’ll take mystified first. What about the old unconditional love thing? Even Freud talked about the purity of dog’s feelings: “…dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate in their object relations.” According to Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, in his book, “Dogs Never Lie About Love,” dogs are without the ambivalence with which humans seem cursed. “We love, we hate, often the same person, on the same day, maybe even at the same time. This is unthinkable in dogs, whether because, as some people believe, they lack the complexity or, as I believe, they are less confused about what they feel.” Is Jasper the only exception?

Now, the hurt: as I watched little Alice be spurned, I had a feeling in my gut….a sick, timorous feeling. It was somewhat familiar. No, not somewhat familiar. Very familiar. Flashback time. Imagine wavy organ music and wavy hypnotic graphics, you know the way they do it on t.v. to transport the protagonist to, in my case, junior high school. Donny Miller. He called me every night. We talked for hours. One night we talked so long – five hours – his mother, who was at his aunt’s house, had to call a neighbor to tell Donny to turn the oven off. She had a roast in it. What could we have possibly talked about? I can’t remember. What I do remember is that he wouldn’t talk to me at school, though we were in the same homeroom. He not only wouldn’t talk to me, he wouldn’t look at me. I stood by my locker and cried every day. More music. More wavy graphics. My 16th birthday. Tony Askins. He’d given me a gold locket with “love Tony” engraved on it. But when he handed me the pretty little box with the gold ribbon, I noticed that he averted his eyes. “Do you still love me?” I asked. Long silence. He looked away. Just the way Jasper looked away from Alice. More wavy music. More wavy graphics. College boy friend. David Sweet. Around my dorm, he was all over me. One of those crazy, possessive types. I might as well have been branded with his initials on my forehead. On campus, nada. He was ambitious and planned to run for student body president. He later confessed that he thought he’d get more votes if women thought he was unattached.

For that whole hour that Jasper stared at the gate, Alice stared at Jasper, I felt fresh waves of rejection. I was astonished at how intense my feelings were. Astonished.

(Alice finally gave up actively trying to remind him of what they once had together. She flopped down next to him and kept vigil just in case remembered.)

I started to think about the Texas-Cheerleader-Murdering-Mom. Remember her? In 1991, Wanda Holloway asked her ex-brother-in-law to hire a hitman to kill the mother of a girl who was competing with her daughter for a spot on their junior high school’s cheerleading squad. Holloway wanted the mother killed because she believed that the competing girl would be so devastated by her mother’s death, she’d drop out of the competition, thereby giving Holloway’s daughter the coveted spot on the cheerleading squad.

Don’t worry. I wasn’t entertaining thoughts of hiring a hit man to kill Fran so that Jasper would be so devastated that he’d….what? Turn to Alice for comfort? No. The reason I thought about the Texas Cheerleading mom: we were both victims of blurred boundary syndrome.

“When he’s pierced, I bleed.” That’s a quote from Lady Bird Johnson’s diary during a particularly bad time in her husband’s presidency. I feel the same way about my husband and kids but here’s the weird part: when my family members are hurt or sad, I may be hurt or sad for them but it doesn’t immediately trigger flashbacks of my own hurts. Why on earth is my identification with my dog more immediate? How do I explain that? I can’t. What I can explain is that Jasper is no longer welcome in my home. I have no intention of revisiting junior high again. Ever.

But it’s working out. According to Fran, Jasper continues to wait by the window when she announces Alice’s impending arrival and he continues to be a perfect host/lover/playmate in his own home. Just as long as his mommy is there.