Where our souls meet
The hound who walks me twice daily is a used dog. In fact, each of the previous dogs of my acquaintance over three-score years started out with someone else but by serendipity and a nose for an easy biscuit, sniffed its way to my seductive patronage. Some years ago when the last of them passed tearfully from my sight, I painfully resolved to be done with dogs forever.
But beware of resolutions sworn to at night in a veterinarian’s cold lobby. The truth is, you are done with dogs only when dogs say you are done and not the reverse. Because, while there are those—many of them good intentioned—who love cats, ferrets, parakeets, hamsters and pot bellied pigs, I have evolved from a long line of dog people. When I meet a dog on the street, or in the home of a friend, I give it the secret scratch and speak kind words very softly in its ear. Not dog whispering. Think of it as soul melding. Dogs always seem to like me–because I like them.
Some years ago, with our children grown and flown, I began talking to goodwife Katherine about hiring a large, retired dog for the house. A professional dog, strictly business, no close attachments. Someone to scare away burglars. Katherine, rolling her eyes as she does, saw through it immediately.
Before I could launch my recruiting campaign, the love child of a pedigreed chocolate Labrador retriever and a vagabond, border collie snouted its way into our lives. A large, solid black creature full of bound and woof (I used to be like that myself), he’d been fired at birth by his disgusted breeders for an imperfect pedigree. A good soul—our youngest son, Brendan—caught sight of his wagging tail and saved him from the knackers.
Brendan acquired the dog not long before his wife gave birth to their first child. It’s hard enough to raise a baby without a bounding, drooling hound anxious to take your arm for a run. The story gets shaggier over the years, and includes Brendan getting laid off from his job as a video game designer and then a divorce. Suffice it to say that Katherine and I, sometime back, ended up with an eight-year-old dog, his 50 pound bags of food, his arthritis, otitis and thyroid condition.
He also came with a name: Coffee.
When we are out for a walk and a neighbor stops to chat and learns the dog’s name, invariably comes the comment “I guess you like your coffee black.” But I’m one of those odd freaks of nature who does not drink coffee. It’s because I am just not a sipper. I like to take long gulps of whatever it is I’m drinking—water, beer, milk, tomato juice. As a boy, gulping hot drinks produced enough scalded tongues and melted throats that I finally realized I had a drinking problem.
Anyway, Brendan, a serious coffee drinker, was not thinking of coffee the beverage when he named his dog. He was thinking of the Hall of Fame defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers, The Detroit Red Wings, etc., etc., No. 77 from Weston, Ontario, Paul Coffey.
When I explain this to the casual Coffee-petter, I am often met with an eyes-glazed-over disconnect. A sad commentary on the poor job our schools have done in educating us on who is who in the National Hockey League.
There’s another name complication, though, one of my own making. I bought one of those personalized dog tags and in a flash of inspiration had it inscribed “Coffee J. Dogg.” Now, Coffee-petters invariably ask “What’s the J stand for?”
“Jejune,” I said one day to a young mother with two toddlers in tow.
“Did you say June?”
“No,” I said. “Jejune. It’s French.”
As usual, a long pause here.
“And you really don’t drink coffee?”
“It means impossibly young and innocent,” I said. “Supremely childlike.”
“I was born in June,” she said. “My husband is April.”
We walked on then—Coffee, bored by the talk and anxious to sniff out a young pup ahead. Me, wondering how a guy ends up with a name like April.
As used dogs go, Coffee J. Dogg has worked out well. So far, no yapping, no burglars, no sentimental attachments. Everything strictly professional. (Katherine is rolling her eyes again).
When Coffee sits next to my chair at night, I can reach out and pet his soft, furry head and say to him “Good boy.” He stares ahead with stoic pride and as much grace as is possible while dangling a dripping, slightly skewed tongue and panting out invisible wiggly waves of weapons-grade halitosis.
A few years ago I planned on naming my next dog Henry, a dignified handle I thought for a retired dog. I suppose I could have given this one Henry for a middle name. But Coffee H. Dogg just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Besides, while his youthful bound has long been tempered by his easily inflamed joints, he is still the forever two- year-old: impossibly young and innocent. A child, really.
That, says Katherine—along with the soft head—is surely where our souls meet.
Note: For more about Coffee J. Dogg and the origins of these essays, click on the menu bar “Nuggets I Picked Up From My Dog”
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013, all rights reserved.