Good Lord, I've become "that guy."
That guy who takes a bajillion pictures of his dog.
That guy who lies on his belly in the wet grass to take said pictures of said dog.
That guy who, in today's technologically advanced world, posts photos of his dog on Instagram and Facebook.
That guy who reads an article about somebody else's dog's death and knowingly shakes my head "yes" in sympathy and understanding.
This realization hit me like a sack of hammers Sunday morning, as I was drinking my coffee and reading the Bismarck Tribune online. My friend Clay Jenkinson wrote another wonderful essay, as usual languid and eloquent, this time about the life and death of his mother's dog. As only Clay does, he took me elegantly through Boz the schnauzer's life, tenderly describing the bond between dog and owner. The trail was going to lead to sadness (I discerned this early by the title of the essay, "On the death of mother's dog, Boz"), but I was enjoying the saunter.
Toward the end, Clay wrote about the innate powers dogs possess, whether or not they know it:
If you have read Jack London or watched a cruel dog owner you know that the fact that dogs forgive us our sins and weaknesses (every time) is little short of a miracle. That they seem genuinely to love us, to greet us effusively every time (our best friends and lovers don't do that), to cheer us when we are down, to cut the loneliness of a lonely life, to help heal us when we are sick, and to intuit and snarl at our enemies long before we recognize them, is literally astonishing. Boz was all of that and more.After reading that, and Clay's next three paragraphs, I found myself putting down my Nook and nodding in approval. It was a moment later that I found myself muttering, "Good Lord, I've become 'that guy.'"
Is this bad? Well, being a poster of dog photos on the Internet is better than being a poster of cat pictures on the Internet (although, out of a sense of fairness [to whom, I don't know], I did upload a picture of our cat to Facebook the other day).
My fear, I'll admit, is being labeled as the person who gives a dog an inordinate amount of attention and attaches too-human qualities to a beast. Talk to law enforcement officers who've entered homes in which the occupant had been expired for some time and they'll tell you how that person's pets treated them in death. Though, not suprisingly, cats are the worst offenders.
Anyway, after thinking more about my apparent descent into becoming a dog weirdo, I decided it's OK ... IF it doesn't become too over-the-top. Here's my thinking:
No. 1, see Clay's paragraph about a canine's apparent unconditional forgiveness. This is a busy, chaotic, sometimes cruel world. It's true dogs provide therapy, if not mental protection, against those forces. Trust me, there are days I need it.
No. 2, I know a little something about Rudy's past and maybe I figure he needs a little special treatment.
Rudy is a rescue dog, adopted from the Fargo-Moorhead Humane Society about a year ago. He's a mix between a yellow Labrador retriever and a pit bull. The pit bull part of the equation is troublesome because many folks looking to rescue a dog are scared by the breed's reputation as aggressive fighters. So we knew Rudy went a long time living in the pound and the kennel before we took a chance. He was unwanted.
Rudy's background is mostly a mystery, but it didn't take long to see he was distrustful of men, to the point he cowered and shied away from me if I tried to approach him. He was abused by somebody, somehow, at some point. That much is clear.
We've also always had the sense Rudy was, as my wife phrased it, a "street dog," that for some period in his life he roamed and wandered without a home. Rudy's always had that unpolished, unrefined, socially clumsy feel about him. He is indepedent and incredibly stubborn when he wants to be, and has the maddening quality of turning off his ears when he doesn't want to hear you.
He is the opposite of a registered, well-bred, subservient dog.
All of those qualities, every single one of them, endear him greatly to me. If there is truth in the old saw that dogs begin to look like their owners and vice versa, Rudy and I have expanded it to personality traits. We've shared many from the beginning.
Our belief that Rudy was homeless at one point was confirmed at the Humane Society's PAWS Walk that benefits shelter animals. As Rudy and I were walking through the throng of dogs and people, a woman's voice called out, "Rudy?!" I responded affirmatively for him.
"Oh my gosh, I barely recognized him," she said.
I asked how she knew Rudy.
The woman explained she fosters dogs if the Humane Society shelter is full.
"Do you know anything about his background?" she asked.
I said we did not.
"I had Rudy right after he was taken from the pound, but before he went into the Humane Society shelter," she said. "You could see his ribs and many of his bones. There wasn't much to him. He didn't have much hair and he had sores all over his body. You could tell he'd been on the street awhile. He was in pretty rough shape, as rough as I've seen a dog I've fostered."
Then she smiled.
"He looks like he's doing better now."
Indeed he is, I said.
So, I figure it like this: I don't want to fully be "that guy," but I'm OK with being partially "that guy." Rudy is a good member of our family. And he had a rough go through his first several years on this planet. I happen to like him. He's survived things he didn't deserve and now he's thriving with my wife and daughter spoiling him daily.
Rudy is unrefined, independent, stubborn and subservient to no one. In other words, my kind of guy.
(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)