The One with All the Questions

The other night, about eleven p.m., Reggie (my dog, for those of you new here) suddenly jumped on my bed and began growling at the night outside my window. To say this behavior is unusual would be an understatement. He has never barked or growled at any movement around the windows. A squirrel could do the Macarena on the windowsill and Reggie wouldn’t lift his head from his dog bed. I quickly turned the lights off to give me a better view since it was so dark outside. It was more than a curiosity; this window opens onto the fire escape. Was something or someone out there? As I tentatively stuck my face near the screen, Reggie continued to growl. There was neither man nor beast on the fire escape. After a few minutes, he sat down, still on alert, staring at the window.

I’ve learned over the years that Reggie and I have been together to trust his senses as much (or more) than mine. He picks up on things I miss due to being distracted or my lame sniffer. (Cocktail party tidbit: depending on breed, dogs can smell up to 100,000 times better than humans. In other words, a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized pools of water.)  There was the time he located a raccoon that had climbed up a tree, and he knows the people who live on my floor by scent alone.

I wish I could ask him what he noticed outside the window that night. In fact, if he could talk, there would be so many things I’d like to know.

When you spent minutes sniffing a bare spot of sidewalk, what is it that you smell exactly?

Why do you bark if I am slicing cheddar cheese, but not Swiss?

Can you smell the difference between specific dogs?

What do you really think about Little Kitty?

Reggie and Little Kitty

Reggie and Little Kitty

Do you refuse to fetch because you don’t like it or because it amuses you that I keep throwing the ball and retrieving it myself?

Why do you sometimes hump my leg, even though I thought we had that “fixed”?

What is so appealing about eating tissues and napkins?

What do you dream about?

Reggie

How old are you? What season were you born? Was it hot? Or cold?

Do you remember your mother?

Were you scared when you were brought to the shelter? Were people mean to you and that’s why you don’t trust strangers?

Who taught you how to sit?

Did you get out of your house and couldn’t find your way back? Did you have a nice home before you were mine?

Do you love me as much as I love you?

Reggie and Me

Reggie and Me

I say I’d like to have the answers to these questions so that I could understand him better, but the truth is that the information gap unnerved me for a long time. I can’t even say how old Reggie is with any certainty. I want answers. I want to fill in the blanks, complete the story, even if it’s incorrect. I can make up my own conclusions based on the little details I have, but I know that is likely to do Reggie a disservice.  I’m amazed by this inclination or instinct. I’ve watched the neighbors Reggie and I meet on our walks, unable to bear the thought of a loose thread, rush to complete his story in a way that offers an explanation. Oh, he must have been abused, they say. That’s why he doesn’t like strangers. I don’t know that to be true, I remind them. Why put a burden on him that may not be his?

In the end, it’s okay to make up a story for my characters, but making up a story for Reggie is the easy way out. The harder thing to do is accept the uncertainty, which is part of accepting life in all its messy forms. I think this is the point, the lesson I needed to learn. The older I get, the more I realize that there are so few things I know For Sure. And that’s okay. Sometimes you won’t have all the answers.

Another valuable lesson I learned from a dog who likes to eat napkins. For more Reggie wisdom, read My Guru Has Fur.

Is there a pet or a person you wish you could ask questions? What would you want to know? 

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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39 comments

  1. I so wanted it to be a squirrel doing the Macarena.

    That is such a common narrative that folks ascribe to adopted pets.

    I often think about the narratives we construct for ourselves and others and how what we choose to think says about our own selves. Or something. I need more coffee.

    I’m sure you could ask Reggie all of these questions and he would answer all of them with the same response he would give to the last one — that he loves you. That’s what I choose to believe is the universal truth of dogs.

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    1. When I adopted Reggie I knew nothing of his background except that he was picked up as a stray. It was only then that I realized how much we humans are desperate to explain any uncertainty. I think it’s hard to accept not knowing or not having answers.

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  2. Sweet Reggie! Something the Dog Whisperer always says about rescued dogs or pups that have endured trauma is that dogs live in the moment and the stuff we ascribe to excuse or justify certain behavior simply doesn’t serve them well. Dogs are wondrous animals! I’m always hoping that mine are happy. I would like to ask them what they think of each other. They have goofy relationships. Love this post, Jackie!

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  3. Dogs are wonderful. When I was really small I used to go and sulk outside my grannie’s house when upset, and her little dog always came to find me and sat patiently beside me until I felt better. Reggie is particularly handsome!

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  4. One thing I have come to believe is that dogs and all animals have much richer, more complex lives and minds than we humans give them credit for.
    If you haven’t seen it, there is a really good documentary- it was either Nova or National Geographic called Dogs Decoded. Fascinating stuff! Even my husband liked it. It’s on Netlfix.
    One last thing: I asked the vet once why my dog Blossom, a female, feels the need to hump my husband’s giant pillow shaped like a bass fish whenever I’m on the treadmill. She said humping was a dominance display, not necessarily a sexual thing. I guess Blossom thinks that’s what I’m doing to the treadmill. =)
    Great post!

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  5. Maybe there was a night critter out on the fire escape and Reggie’s inner watchdog felt compelled to protect his home by making a loud case to scare the interloper away. I love dogs and Reggie sounds as devoted to you as you are to him. You guys make a great team and you are both lucky that fate and timing brought you two together. My sister’s dog, Thurber, was also a rescue. He’s an adorable Poovanese (a Dr. Frankenstein mash-up — half poodle and half Havanese) that was house broken, but still under a year old. He was found lost in Tiburon, one of the toniest sections in Marin County. When my sister rescued him and brought him to her small townhouse in modest Novato, if he objected to the downgrade in accommodations, he’s never conveyed his displeasure to her. Like Reggie, he’s a very loyal and loving companion. One of the many things that make dogs so wonderful is that they’re so demonstrative. I have also wondered what they would say if they could talk. Your list of questions are all excellent — and so are your photos of your handsome furry sidekick.

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    1. Ironically, or not, Tiburon is Spanish for “shark.” Wouldn’t expect them to live in Marin County, much less one of its toniest enclaves.

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    2. I do wonder what was out there on the fire escape. It had to be something, otherwise Reggie wouldn’t have reacted that way. Just because I couldn’t see it with my eyes doesn’t mean there wasn’t something there.
      You’ll have to come out and meet Reggie sometime. (Tip: bring treats! 🙂 )

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      1. No way would Reggie have been barking and growling his head off if it was just a gum wrapper (still have gum on the brain over here) that blew across your fire escape, that’s for sure. I would love to meet him! I think I can handle making my way to Brooklyn a lot easier (and faster) than I can visit our mutual friends in Ecuador. But, when there’s a subway line heading for Cuenca, then I’ll have no excuse to not accept their invitation. Back to us, we should make some sort of get-together plan. I would think that fall must be magnificent dog-walking weather. My childhood mongrel, Mean Streak, seemed to thrive when the weather was just on the right side of chilly.

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      2. A subway line to Cuenca would certainly make getting to Ecuador a lot easier, unless it’s a local. 🙂
        Reggie loves to take long walks around Prospect Park and search for napkins to eat. Maybe you come along with us one of these weekends?

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  6. Rocky doesn’t like strangers either, but it could be that he wasn’t socialized properly. I don’t like to think of his life before the shelter, but I do feel bad when the vet asks me how old he is. Saying, “I think he’s 14 or 15” sounds wrong somehow.
    Rocky used to steal paper napkins off our laps and sit under the table methodically shredding them. He doesn’t do it anymore–probably because he can’t see well enough to steal them. If I drop a paper towel, though, he’s all over it. 🙂

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    1. Go, Rocky! What is it about the paper goods?
      A while back I had some friends over for dinner and Reggie went under the table, stealing the napkins off each person’s lap and gobbling it up. He was so stealthy, no one realized it until they went looking for their napkins. And there was Reggie on his dog bed licking his lips!

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  7. You know . . . that’s a good question. There are some people in my life I’d like to really know better because I feel there’s a wall there. (And not because, like Reggie, they can’t talk!)

    I didn’t read all the comments but did someone already insist you read Racing in the Rain?? I’m sure you’ve read it!

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    1. I haven’t read Racing in the Rain, believe it or not. And you’re not the first person who has recommended it. I’ve got it on my TBR list, which is now so long I won’t be able to read all the books unless I live to 100! 🙂

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  8. Wow. Such a powerful message from Reggie: “accept the uncertainty.” And such a DIFFICULT thing for us humans to do. (I have to say, like you, I wonder what the heck my cats are thinking as well).

    And I LOVE Little Kitty… reminds me SO MUCH of a cat I had as a child. His name was Underdog, and he was GIGANTIC. Same, exact face, markings and coloring as Little Kitty. I still miss that cat something fierce; he was quite the hunter, bringing full-size pheasants and giant rabbits home. Someone stuck him with their car and we found him in the ditch on the way to school one morning. I was in third grade and STILL remember that sad day with vivid recollection.

    Animals are so important to us in so many ways – especially the lessons they unwittingly provide to us, if only we listen.

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    1. Little Kitty’s markings are so striking, aren’t they? In fact, she has a lot of similar markings to Reggie, which is funny. Little Kitty is cared for by some very kind neighbors, but she hangs out on the block. Whenever she sees Reggie, she comes running. Actually galloping is more like it. Then she does her kitty prance all around him.

      I love that your cat’s name was Underdog. It’s wonderful that he still has a special place in your heart after all these years.

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  9. I wonder all the time about Miles and Att. I know when Miles was born but I know nothing about Att’s first year. I have to wonder what he went through and why he decided to climb into my car that cold winter morning. I’ve never had a cat actually get in my car. I’ve had strange dogs do that, but never a cat. And he looked rough. Now he’s beautiful (he was then) and I hope happy.

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  10. Wow, except for the humping and the early part of her life, I literally could’ve written this post about Abby! For one thing, in her old age she has started barking at the most random (and often nonexistent) things. Really frustrating with a dog who never ever barked at anything before this. But all your questions? ME TOO! When you figure them out, put me first on the list of people to tell, okay? I’m not very good at accepting uncertainty or unknown — and often wish I could read peoples’ minds, so to read a dog’s mind would be amazing.

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    1. I have learned to trust Reggie’s senses. Just last night he was sleeping and suddenly woke up. He started scanning the air with his nose, sniffing, sniffing, sniffing. He walked to the window and stuck his nose to the screen. And I couldn’t smell a darn thing — and I was awake! Can you imagine being woken up from a deep sleep because your subconscious was aware of a smell?!?

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  11. Sorry I’m so late getting here, Jackie, but our container has arrived from the US, distracting me from other interests. Don’t want to drown in the boxes on my way to laptop. Jeez–we have toooooooo much stuff.

    At any rate, I LOVE this post, as you might have guessed. We wish we could ask these kinds of questions especially of Ralph, whose first 7 months are a blank to us. And both of our dogs are tissue eaters–Lucy especially!

    Hope you had a wonderful weekend. Greeting to Reggie from all of us here in Cuenca.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

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  12. What a lovely post, Jackie.
    I often wonder where my kitty was before I got her. Not the one of blog fame, I got him when he was only a tiny kitten, but still, a few questions there as well.

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      1. Ha! I didn’t realize that either. I’m impressed that you customized your theme. I’m still nervous when it comes to customizing because I don’t have a lot of experience with it.

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