Buddy tramples the leafy shrubs of the traffic circle, his nose sweeping back and forth like a metal detector those old guys use at the beach. The treasure that ignites Buddy’s enthusiasm isn’t lost jewelry but whatever another dog left behind. After an extravaganza of sniffing, he squats on his stubby back legs.
My brother-in-law fishes through his jacket pocket and offers me a distressingly thin plastic grocery bag, “You got this one?”
My weak laugh is a poor cover for my disgust at the thought handling his number two. I’m reminded of a Jerry Seinfeld bit that aliens watching earth might assume that dogs ran the planet – “If you see two life forms, one of them is making a poop, the other one’s carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?”
I don’t have a dog and have never really been around dog people much either. Part of the reason is that I get an allergic reaction from pooches. A few shed hairs or a slap of slobber from a friendly lick and my eyes turn red and I’m sneezing like one of the seven dwarfs. My aversion is rooted in biology.
But over time I’ve let that creep into my attitude towards dogs, and I’m feeling it with Buddy. When my wife and I visit her sister Beth in Chattanooga, our otherwise pleasant morning walks are dominated by the demands of an unruly eight-year-old Basset hound. We stop every ten feet to let him smell something and in return he tangles our legs with the leash. Then there is the whole feces retrieval ritual.
Buddy is the third in a line of Basset hounds that Beth has owned. And I’ve been around them all for more than 25 years. The first, Teddy, was once saved from death by my wife performing the Heimlich maneuver on him (true story). He also liked to eat the tinsel off the Christmas tree. A habit discovered by the sparkly surprises he left in the yard (sadly also true). After him came Cassie who developed doggie dementia (really, that can happen). And now Beth mothers Buddy, a “special needs” rescue dog with anxiety issues so severe he sometimes wears a “thundershirt” to calm him (don’t ask).
Basset hounds have the second-most-sensitive snouts in the canine world – bested only by bloodhounds. They were bred to chase rabbits. But there is no hunting going on. No one is tracking escaped convicts. If a tennis ball is tossed across the yard Buddy only sniffs your shoes and then lays down in the bare dirt under a shade tree. I question his entire existence.
All of which is fine and well but I know my discomfort is written all over my face on our Easter morning stroll. And while my family is too polite to tell me I’m a jerk for silently judging Beth's pet choice, I bet they are thinking it.
The sun shimmers on the Tennessee River as we cross the pedestrian bridge that connects to the North Shore where an Easter egg hunt has just concluded. Families approach with smiling toddlers clutching their prize baskets. A little girl in a pastel dress runs up to us and asks if she can pet Buddy. She lovingly runs her hand over his head and down his back. Buddy sits without a command and the girl throws her arms around him in a hug, nuzzling her cheek against his floppy ears.
The same scenario plays out a half dozen times as we walk through the crowd. Everyone lights up at his glum expression. They laugh and say how their family once had a Basset hound or share a story about their dog. We talk and bond for a moment and then they walk on. But with a lighter step. Those moments of joy and connection happen all along the walk that morning.
Buddy brought happiness into the day for a dozen people just by being himself. And what’s more he did it effortlessly and unceasingly. He didn’t set out to do it, but it happened. He turns his droopy gaze up to me to see if I get it yet.
I think back and realize that Teddy and Cassie must have brought the same cheer to so many over the years. No tricks required. Just by being authentic to their nature.
Good boy Buddy. Good boy.
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