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?
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?
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?
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!