Thursday, February 12, 2009

"Outside a dog, a book is your best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx

So what does it mean to have "a life in dogs"? It's a funny grammatical construction, but for those whose lives revolve around dogs - raising them, romping with them, showing them, watching them, learning from them - it's a common turn of phrase.

My Basset Hounds are the first to greet me in the mornings, the last thing I hear falling asleep, as they stir, settle and sigh on their own beds near mine. My home is made for their comfort, my schedule arranged to meet their needs. At the same time, I'm not a "dog parent", and no one standing on four legs here gets dressed up in Halloween costumes or rides around in an oversized shoulder bag.

We are companions, living together with affection and respect. I try my best to understand what they are saying to me - and to each other - in their infinite and complex body language. Perhaps they try to understand what I am saying to them when I ramble on about my day. If nothing else, they show the courtesy of looking interested. Good thing, too, since I do control the cookie jar. ;)

Right now, it's me and five of them - the four girls and Hank, who used to be a foster dog but somewhere along the way became a permanent resident. Living with a pack of dogs is different than living with one or even two. At a certain point, you recognize that you are outnumbered - but you have to learn to still be in charge, to set the tone, project an expectation of peace in the household.

My dogs have a life outside of me, their own relationships and interactions, their own hierarchy and affections. That's not just ok with me - it's a delight.

So what is my life in dogs? Most often, it refers to someone whose living is tied up in dogs - trainers, handlers, dog show judges, breeders. For me, it's not about making a living, but making a life in their company.

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