Mr. Bogart

I look at the dog I still call “puppy.” He’s grown white in his dignified face, though he was always very light-colored, a yellow Labrador retriever who received the name Bogie in honor of my favorite actor.

He’ll be nine in December, sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It doesn’t seem possible. It seems only yesterday that we brought him home, a soft, pudgy pup then about the size his grown-up head is now. I can see him in my mind’s eye: Nibbling at Suze’s shoe laces, attacking the old throw pillows we gave him to sleep on, chasing leaves in the back yard. We accentuated his nickname to “Bogie-Butt” early on, since he had this uncanny knack for turning his behind to a camera the very instant the shutter snapped. I have more photos of Bogie’s butt than I do his face.

As a fine example of a fine breed, Bogie has always astounded us with his intelligence. In human years, he’d be 68, a senior citizen, but he’s spry and energetic still. I take credit for that in part, having decided from the moment he came to live with us that he would be fed all-natural, no additive, no grain kibble with only human-grade meat products. It’s not cheap. But love has no price tag.

Sometimes when he comes and puts his chin on my knee, tail wagging, and gazes up at the with those big, expressive brown eyes, I notice the white along his snout. He’s getting old. Someone I can’t recall once wrote that the only drawback to dogs is that their lives are so much shorter than our own; and that a person is lucky if in their own lives they are blessed with but one good dog. Suze and I are blessed.

Did you know that a dog is the only “animal” besides us that can understand the act of pointing?

It’s true. When you point at something nearly all dogs will look where you’re pointing, more so some breeds than others, and sometimes a vocalization is needed to enhance it.

But even chimps don’t do that. Scientists claim it’s because our long association with dogs has favored a genetic disposition for the intelligence widget that understands pointing. I think that’s hogwash. I think our dogs are as in tune with us as we are with them, and it may be a matter of evolution to some extent, but if a chimp, our nearest cousin, can’t do it and a dog can…well, that gives you some idea of which species we ought to be hanging around with.

The things Bogie understands amaze us. We were trying to get him to go out to make his business before bedtime one night. Suze held the door open but Bogie wasn’t budging.

“Go on,” she said.

Bogie wasn’t falling for it.

“Go on, Bogie. You can come right back in.”

So Bogie darted out the door, hit the bottom of the steps, spun on his heels and raced right back inside. We laughed ourselves silly, but the point is, he understood a phrase he has rarely if ever heard before: “You can come right back in.”

One night Suze and I were in the living room and had treated ourselves to a few cookies. Bogie was resting on his rug, and Suze and I went outside for about five minutes, leaving the dog in the house.

We trust Bogie implicitly. He’s never counter-surfed or chewed up anything he isn’t supposed to. He can stay in the house unattended all day and never get into the kitchen trash can. But when we came back in and sat in our respective places, Suze said, “Uh-oh, I left a cookie here on the sofa and it’s gone.”

Bogie was sitting between her and his rug by then, and we noticed the napkin Suze had her last cookie on now lying on his rug.

“Bogie,” she said softly, “did you eat my cookie?”

And I swear on a stack of bibles, Bogie looked from her eyes to the napkin on his rug and lowered his head in shame.

We were stunned. So she said, “Bogie, where’s my cookie?”

Bogie looked at the napkin again, and lowered his head more as we did our best to keep straight faces.

This dog, that’s supposed to be far less intelligent than a chimp, made a mental connection between the cookie on the napkin on the sofa + the actual question she asked him + the location of the napkin after he snatched the cookie = guilt over what he had done. Or at least remorse that he had been found out.

So, yeah, it makes me a little sad when his gazes back at me from intelligent, adoring brown eyes set in his whitening face. I’m sure we’ve got several more years with him, and I hope we’ve done right by the big fella. I think we have. I think so because, as W. Dayton Wedgefarth said, “I talk to him when I’m lonesome like; and I’m sure he understands. When he looks at me so attentively, and gently licks my hands, then he rubs his nose on my tailored clothes, but I never say naught thereat. For the good Lord knows I can buy more clothes, but never a friend like that.”

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