Dogs can make great conversation starters. Little cute ones attract babes the same way garbage attracts dogs. OK, so maybe that was an awkward analogy, but women do like little doggies. They gather around and coo and ask silly questions like, “Does he bite?” and I say, “Not if you give me your phone number,” winking and grinning wryly, hoping she won’t bite me with her fist or kick me in the groin like an earlier woman did.
Dogs are the butt of jokes and they never complain about it. You never see dogs on the Tonight Show whining about how they’re ridiculed or made fun of. I can walk up to a dog and say, “I had a little dog like you, I named him Cigarette. He didn’t have any legs and I’d take him out for a drag every night,” and the dog won’t flinch, unless I get my face too close to his and he’s prone to biting.
Sometimes dogs are funny, aside from Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, who is a professional and in a league all his own. For instance, dogs will sometimes roll in dead fish to mask their smell, which is very funny when it isn’t your dog and it runs inside the home of its owner. Or when they are video-recorded with voice over, like the YouTube hit, “Ultimate Dog Tease.”
As kids, we dressed up a neighbor’s beagle in shorts and a T-shirt. We laughed ourselves to the brink of unconsciousness and the dog never complained.
Before the Internet, rumor had it that a human bite was nastier than a dog’s because a dog’s mouth was rumored to be cleaner than a human’s, in terms of germs. Even back then, in the pre-Internet Stone Age, I regarded that rumor with deep skepticism. Consider what and where dogs lick themselves and other dogs and other stuff. Consider, too, that dogs rarely, if ever, brush their teeth, and who besides the masochistically suicidal is about to floss their Doberman or Rotweiller?
Just the thought of the latter conjures the squeamishness of imagining sliding down a thousand-foot razor blade into a pool of alcohol. It turns out that, per science and other than rabies, humans are immune to most dog-mouth germs. It’s true; check it on The Google. This explains why some people you know let their dog slobber all over their mouths and faces, even make out with their dog in some weird, French fashion, yet never seem to fall ill from it.
Still, it’s a good idea to thoroughly clean a dog bite before sewing shut the gashes and bandaging the wound, just to be safe. You never really know what germs an animal may harbor. Just ask Dan Droessler of Wisconsin who, on July 1, 1998, was dangling his toes in the water of a lake when a yard-long tiger muskie shot up from the depths and swallowed his foot and part of his calf. After prying his limb from the fish’s sharp-toothed maw, Droessler managed to get himself to a hospital for 60 much-needed stitches.
Those of us who grew up in Sconnie have had at least one childhood friend whose family had a muskie head mounted to a board hanging on a wall. Their teeth are genuinely long and sharp, like row upon row of fangs designed to hang on good to whatever prey they bite into. So Droessler brought the fish with him because he wasn’t sure if its bite could transmit anything dangerous (it doesn’t). One good thing about dogs is that, unlike a tiger muskie, they’re not likely to swallow your lower leg in one, big bite.
In childhood, a friend once said, “Did you ever notice that a dog only smiles when it’s barfing? The corners of its mouth go up like this, and it looks like it’s smiling.” At the time, I had to agree. Later in life, I came to realize that Gregg apparently had never taught his dog the “Smile Pretty” trick, which only requires getting the dog angry enough to bear its teeth but not bite, then praising the dog for its brink-of-attack behavior.
Princess was Mike’s Golden Retriever, which his daughter named in her youth. This was an amazing dog, but with an irritating dog name for two recently divorced guys rooming together in a divorce-salvaged house, when one or both of us would call the dog back into the house from the front door. What’s interesting about Princess, other than the sidelong glances the less-familiar neighbors would throw our way as we sang out her name from that front step
(“Is he calling someone, or is he proclaiming his perceived lot in life?”), was that this dog could, by its own volition, climb a curved, metal-bar ladder on a children’s play structure at a local park. That part was weird enough on its own, but Princess would do this to access the elevated platform that connected to the spiral slide, which she’d slide down, again by her own volition. Try doing that with a cat.
Dogs are a good source of warmth. Their average body temperature runs higher than a human’s, which may explain why dogs expire faster than we do. The band “Three Dog Night” is named after an old-timey saying about how cold it is outside and the number of dogs required on the bed to keep the humans warm enough to sleep comfortably.
“It’s a dog’s life” refers to a life of leisure, but you couldn’t tell that to an Alaskan sled dog, or a working herder. Einstein was a border collie, not working as a herder, but whose instinct for herding was so strong that he’d herd the chairs (wood, with nylon slides on the legs, on a tile floor) around the dining-room table, nudging them into a circle and nipping at the chair legs to gain chair compliance.
I’ve lately been wanting to breed a terrier with a bulldog, so I can have bizarre conversations with curious passers by, because the problem with communication is the assumption of it, which often is hilarious. I’d name the breed TerriBull. I envision a calico-looking beast; a short, squat, low, wide, stocky, over-stuffed-sausage looking thing with wiry hair jutting from strange places, maybe the eyebrows, upper lip, spine (like the dorsal fin on a fish), and short bulldog hair elsewhere except perhaps on its rump. The tail I’d leave long if it’s bushy. I’d name him (or her) Lucifer. Lucifer the TerriBull.
“It’s a… it’s a TerriBull, ma’am!”
“Oh, my! It sure looks it. But what breed is it?”
“TerriBull! It’s a… a… TerriBull!”
I’d deliberately stagger my speech to lend urgency to my message, putting emphasis on the breed name each time, elevating excitement, or anxiety, in my inquiring stranger, now cautiously backing farther away.
“Well, don’t you love it, then? You appear to be feeding it enough.”
“Why, yes, ma’am, I love him bunches. It’s just that he’s a… a… a TerriBull!!!”
“Is he badly trained, then? Is that what’s wrong?”
“No! No, nothing wrong. He’s well-trained, does lots of tricks, see?”
I’d rush “Lucy” through a few routines, like dance, and roll over, and high-five, and speak, and “smile pretty,” where the dog raises its upper lip to bear its fangs as if gruesomely smiling, all much to the glee of my entertained, if confused, onlooker.
“Well, I don’t think he’s so bad! You should get rid of him if you find him so offensive!”
I think I’ll just adopt a mutt from the dog pound and tell everyone he’s a TerriBull. Because the problem with communication is the assumption of it, which often is hilarious.
Mark Forseth is a regulatory technical writer with the Federal Aviation Administration in Seattle, Wash. His career has centered on public-broadcast journalism and technical writing for such industries as GE Medical; ABB Robotics; Harley-Davidson Motorcycles; Allen-Bradley Motion Controls; Johnson Controls; and Imago Scientific instruments, among others.