The First Year
January 2
3, 2009

By Roger Emile Stouff

I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts. – John Steinbeck

Our yellow Lab, Bogie, celebrated his first birthday between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I say "celebrated" but there was no real party or anything. It occurred to me one day and I told Suzie, "Hey, Bogie’s a year old now," and we patted him on the head and he wagged his tail. End of celebration.

When dogs are registered with the AKC, they are usually given fifty-cent names such as "Grayshire’s Pearl Mistress Languishing Annie" or something like that. Bogie’s not AKC registered, though both his parents were, and since their backyard rendezvous under a starry, starry night of autumn amour resulted in Bogie and 10 siblings, well, we figure Mr. Humphrey Bogart Esq. is about all we can afford.

He’s grown into quite the lad. At about 60 pounds, he’s far smaller than his puppy feet indicated he might become. That puppy had big feet, and I swore he’d be a hundred, maybe more. They say Labs reach their full height at a year or maybe a little longer, but put on their final weight in the second year. I expect he’ll top out at no more than 70.

And let me tell you, friends and neighbors, that dog is just lousy with personality. Keeps us in stitches fairly often. He’s a beautiful golden-brown with whiter flanks and deep brown eyes that’ll pierce right through you if he wants them to. He’s extraordinarily well-behaved on almost all counts – greeting visitors and chasing anything from cats to wind-blown leaves being the leading exceptions – and even is starting to get along with Patches, my calico cat.

At first, Bogie’s frenzied enthusiasm sent Patches into a hair-on-end, tail-straight, hissing, spitting, growling ball of calico terror. Over time, though, she’s gotten more used to him, and his own calming with maturity has helped. Still, it’s funny as all get-out to see Bogie notice Patches, rush to her, drop on his front legs, behind in the air, tail spinning like a helicopter and begging Patches to play with him. Meanwhile, the cat is sitting there a couple feet away with a look of complete disdain. "Simpleton," she seems to be saying. "Go chase a tree stump."

When Bogie realizes his pleading is not working, he’ll try to play with her physically. He’s finally gotten it through his head that Patches may resemble the furry, animal caricature toys we bought him when he was a little puppy, but Patches is not a chew toy. Unlike his puppyhood chewables, Patches bites and scratches back. No bloodshed has resulted; she has shown amazing restraint.

I thought she was petrified and overwhelmed by him -– and at first she was – until one day Bogie had tired of trying to get her to play when all she’d do was arch her back and feign indignation. He went to lay down on his mat, and don’t you know, that dang cat peeked around the corner, saw the dog laying there dozing off, walked over and sat right next to his nose, as if saying, "Quitter!"

One day Bogie was in the workshop. I had gone in the house for another cup of coffee or something, and when I came out he was halfway down the steps and frozen like a statue. I saw the white toe and heel of one of Suzie’s outside shoes from my vantage point at the back of his head.

"Bogie," I said, "what do you have?"

He stood stone-still, one leg on each step of the descent.

"Bogie, is that Suzie’s shoe?"

And at once he dropped it, hit the concrete running and vanished out the back door. He knew good-and-well he was performing a dreaded "No!" action.

Last night I noticed him staring at my living room chair, tail spinning. I throw an old blanket over the chair, and it has this cool Native American design of a turtle or a beetle or something on it. Bogie was staring at it cautiously and tilting his head from side to side.

"Come see this," I told Suzie. "He thinks it’s alive!"

We had a little chuckle over it, and I walked off and in a minute or two Suzie tells me our pup isn’t quite as dense as I thought he might be.’

"Why’s that?" I asked.

"Because Patches is under the blanket," she said. Sure enough, Patches – who might weigh five pounds soaking wet, which I can’t prove because nobody’s got the nerve to get her soaking wet – suddenly realized she had been found out and retreated behind the chair, with Bogie in hot pursuit.

Around Christmas, when there was just stuff scattered everywhere in usual holiday rush and disarray, Bogie came walking into the living room with a small red and white stocking in his mouth. I looked at him and he looked at me and froze, staring at me, trying his best to express silently that Suzie gave it to me, honest, but of course, I knew better.

"Give it to me," I said. He brought it to me, put it in my hand gently and sat. This, you understand, is completely opposite of what he does when we are playing fetch and training for bird retrieves, when he’ll bring the dummy back to me and whirl around my feet, dancing happily, pitching the dummy in the air so he can catch it and ignoring my repeated pleas of, "Bogie! Give! Release! Drop! Give me the damn thing! Hey! Give! Drop! Relinquish! Abandon! Surrender! Dangit! Bogie! Come back here!"

We don’t give our dogs enough credit, I think. Now, I’ve known some genuinely USDA-inspected A-Number-One Certified Dumb Dogs in my time, but they are few and far between.

They say that every bird hunter will inevitably face one of the most humbling and miserable moments of his life when his dog flushes a quail or a grouse or whatever, the bird takes flight, the hunter shoulders his shotgun, fires, and…misses. They say that at such a time, the dog, just then a-quiver with anticipation of the retrieve, will drop his ears, turn around and look at the hunter. "Nice shootin’, ace," they seem to relate, and many a wingshooter has withered under their own dog’s disgruntled gaze.

But that moment’s yet to come, I guess, if Bogie and I ever get afield. Meanwhile, I’m just taking immeasurable joy out of watching him grow up into a fine dog, and a good friend.

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. – W. Dayton Wedgefarth