I walked him this morning, along Mesa View in front of our gated community. And he was prancing, lifting his front legs as if he was a show dog in the center ring of Madison Square Garden. When he looked back at me, his eyes were bright, his head was high, his ears were happily flopping with his pace and the wind. He was one happy puppy.
A few moments before, I took him to his appointed spot to pee, the area between the path behind our little bridge and the adobe fence around our property. He ran up there, sniffed around, then sniffed some more, taking only a few seconds to find the exactly right spot and then he urinated, lifting one leg, looking as if he were energetically concentrating on the task at hand. Then he stopped and attempted to rush by me.
The task I wanted him to do was over. It was time for his walk and that meant a dash to the side gate, which, when opened, would lead him to freedom and the ability to run as fast as he wanted.
But I stopped him because I knew that what needed to be done was to praise his efforts to please me and to do his “business” (how many polite words do we have to disguise the fact that what I wanted him to do was to piss and shit where I wanted him to do it)?
I petted him, I said, “Good boy,” so many times the words seemed false as they hit my tongue, and I gave him a treat which I remembered to take when he was still in his cage, whining a bit and anxious to get out. I had forgotten the treat in the days before and had felt bad about that.
If a dog finally did what I desperately wanted him to do where I wanted him to do it, all the books and all the advisers on housebreaking a dog say that he deserved and was required to have a treat.
So I insisted on giving him a treat.
His black eye-liner eyes looked up at me as if to say: do you really want to do this now when there is a walk through an amazing world waiting for us?
He gently took the treat, in the form of a manufactured little brown bone-looking thing, into his mouth. He did this almost reluctantly, saying by gesture: all right, I’ll do this for you, for you.
Then he bit down on the fake, supposedly treat of a bone, as gently as he could, took it from me, turned his back on me, squatted down, applied one gentle bite and then left the treat on the ground to be found another time, and ran past me to the bridge he feared so much when we first came out of the kitchen and had to cross it.
With the shortest of glances to make sure I both approved and was perhaps following him, Gizmo dashed away, running past the palm trees to the side gate, which is always closed. There, he would wait for me, apparently patient, but actually quite excited for however long it would take for me to catch up to him.
Once he had attained the goal of standing before the side door, the gateway to the truly long walks we have taken, he would sit there apparently until Hell froze over (or the Cubs won the World Series, whichever came first.
I caught up to him, attached a leash because the garbage collectors were in the neighborhood and Gizmo was less than perfect at obeying me if there was any distraction nearby.
And off we walked.
I went out the front gate, paused by his favorite palm trees for pissing because I knew that was what he wanted to do.
And I watching him as he became a high stepping, ears-flopping, hair-waving, joyous dog enjoying a crisp, almost cold February morning.
He might have been upset because, with a leash, he wasn’t allowed to go exactly where he wanted to go when he wanted to get there. He could have been angry because I insisted on taking him over the bridge and to the back of the property at a time when he desperately wanted to be elsewhere. If my own children were treated that way (without the leash, of course) and they had the facility of language Gizmo will never have, I would not have ever heard the end of it.
But Gizmo was joyous. He was prancing. He was straining at the leash and loving being outside. He was demonstrating what shrinks and psychologists and even philosophers have talked to us about for years – Gizmo was in the moment.
And there I was, a bit behind him physically and metaphorically, thinking about the last act of a play I wanted to write, pondering did I do the right thing when I got into an argument with Grace that neither of us wanted to have late the night before about planning a trip to France vs. working on selling our house (it was one of those almost but-not-quite fights which was not only ridiculous and stupid, and which any neutral observer would say “You’re both right, now shut up and go to sleep”).
And there was this dog, this lower, lesser, not quite as intelligent creature walking, prancing, grooving on the day and whatever freedom and joy he had.
"I've seen a look in dogs' eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts." –John Steinbeck