pooches and pot
by nikki meredith
Every week brings news of yet another way dogs help humans. We’ve know for a while they can be excellent detectives – diagnosing melanoma with their noses, sensing dangerous blood sugar fluctuations in diabetics and discerning imminent seizures in epileptics. People with dogs are generally healthier – after acquiring a pooch they exercise more, their blood pressure goes down, their sense of well being goes up. And the list goes on. But when I read these studies, I often wonder if anyone has measured the negative effects of dog ownership.
What happens to one’s vocal cords when one yells “shut the fuck up ” 50 times a day to a dog who barks at all manner of threats such as the wind in the willows or her own reflection in the window pane at night? And what about the effect on one’s lower back of bending over to scoop up dog poop twice a day to say nothing of the cumulative stress of worrying about the accumulation of millions of plastic bags filled with said poop? (And why isn’t there a law mandating that those bags be biodegradable?) And for all the new friends you make because of the dog, how many do you lose because you’ve become a bore who talks too much about dogs and not enough about movies, books, politics – in short, a dog nut who is more likely to express astonishment at the number of breeds being bred with poodles (Did you know there are now poogles, woodles, schnnodles, scoodles, and Saint Berdoodles? And that’s only a fraction of the number of poodle hybrids.) than she is an opinion about whether Hillary should run or on the pros and cons of housing density along the Highway 101 corridor?
In spite of the number of negatives, however, I believe there’s no contest. What I haven’t seen measured or even discussed much is the laughing thing. I laugh more in a day with Alice than I did in a whole year before we got her. Maybe in 10 years, maybe 20.
Last year I developed a mild spasm in my back and my Pilates instructor recommended that I lie on a tennis ball on the floor and move around. The first day it was great. An effective, low-tech method to knead muscles and relieve pressure.
The second day didn’t go so well. I didn’t realize that Alice, who is obsessed with tennis balls, was watching me as I placed the ball under me. As I started to wriggle it into place, she and Lefty, my daughter’s Goldendoodle who was staying with us, went for it. I have no idea how they coordinated their effort but they did. Alice’s assignment was my arm pits. She tried one and when she couldn’t access the ball, she trotted around to the other one, nuzzling her nose under my arm. I held firm so back she went to the other one, nuzzling deeper with each attempt. Meanwhile, Lefty’s assignment was to go for my waist. He was more direct in his approach. He knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line so, starting at my head, and walking over my face, he traversed a path to my stomach and then started “digging” with his paws. I started laughing and I couldn’t stop. They finally achieved their goal when I curled up into the fetal position and they retrieved the ball.
(I have seen them double-team several projects and it reminds me of watching two harvester ants in the desert move a pod from a mesquite tree many times their size. Do they, in ant language, have some version of, “Hey Mac, I’ll take this end, you take the other?” One day I watched Alice and Lefty dig a deep hole in the back yard, taking turns. I was so intrigued that it took me a while to realize they were digging a hole in my garden. Last Christmas they unraveled an entire red ribbon. One held the end of the ribbon while the other pulled the thread with her teeth.
In the tennis ball incident, after I recovered my composure, I realized that the last time I laughed like that was decades before when I smoked weed for the first time. There was a group of people, a beach, a campfire, a moonless night, hence, a particularly bright Milky Way. Someone made a comment about Orion’s belt, something completely inane that included the mention of suspenders. At the time it seemed like the most hilarious thing I had ever heard. Marijuana never had the effect again. The difference between marijuana and dogs is that, for me, the effect of dogs doesn’t wear off.
I knew exactly what she meant. I didn’t expect to laugh so much with Alice either. And it is with. I’m not only talking about antics. I’m talking about something that derives from the relationship.
(Wait. I have to retract that. Sometimes they are simply funny. As I write this, Lefty, who is with us again, is asleep on the floor. There is a doggie bed on the floor but he’s lying on his back under the doggie bed. I have no idea how he arranged that but it makes me laugh. Not a chuckle. A hearty, from the belly, laugh.)
Why would dogs make me laugh more now than ever before? I’ve had dogs that I loved much of my life. I suppose it could have something to do with my age but my daughter isn’t my age. I can’t think about this for too long because when I try to parse precisely what it is that makes me laugh, the laughter fades in that you-had-to-be-there kind of way.
But I’m gonna try one more anyway. Over the weekend, Alice discovered Lefty’s penis. She had explored other parts of his anatomy fairly thoroughly before but for some reason she hadn’t hit upon that appendage. She sniffed it, she licked it a little and then she stepped back with an “oh, wow” expression. But that isn’t what made me laugh. What made me laugh was the expression on his face. Contemplative.