If you’ve owned dogs and served cats, as I have, watching them closely can give you a peek inside their noggins.
There’s a great book by Jared Diamond—GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL—that drops serious knowledge about the kittehs and doggos, and yes, that book is all about the rise and fall of civilizations around the world, so why would he bother with house pets?
(1) Diamond says you can figure out which civilizations struggled and which turned into mighty empires with a simple trick: count how many plants and animals they could domesticate.
(2) That’s because you can’t have permanent villages and cities, much less an empire, if you’re stuck roaming around as hunter-gatherer. Tough life, carrying everything that you own, especially without a horse to haul it around. You have to be able to grow wheat and herds of goats and such to settle down and have villages, then cities, then science and tiny supercomputers that allow a single human to send Candy Crush spam to all of their Facebook friends.
(3) The only animals that can truly be domesticated are ones that naturally travel in packs or herds, because only those animals understand how to be social. In other words, animals with some natural manners. Other animals might be sort of tamed, but never truly domesticated.
(4) Doggos live in packs and are totes social.
(5) Cats are solitary hunters and brutal killers. Seriously. Yes, even the ones that look like this:
Back when The Discovery channel did science instead of reality shows about pawn shops and such, there was a Top 10 Predators episode. You had the great white shark, polar bears, lions, tigers, Kevin Spacey, you know, the usual suspects.
Number 1? House cats. Even if well fed, they’ll run around killing scads of birds, mice and whatever else they can, just for fun. They are furry little Sith Lords.
So why are puppers and doggos so different?
I’ve watched our Hound of the Baskervilles from when he was about one year old and have gotten a good look inside his head.
Mystery Number 1: Why do dogs HATE the mailman?
This seems to be such a cliché, an urban legend. The kind of thing that could get traced back to an off-hand line on I LOVE LUCY that just took off in pop culture and never died off.
Except there are good reasons for dogs to hate mail carriers and delivery folks.
Since we live on a dead-end road with few neighbors, there are two distinct types of people driving by: folks who live here and visitors.
The Hound doesn’t bark once when he hears the cars of people who live here. Doesn’t even look up—he knows the sound of each engine, though he’ll head for the door to greet family members when he hears their car start up the hill.
Random visitors might get barked at, but to him, they heed that warning and keep on driving past to their destination. They don’t stop at our house or show back up again tomorrow.
Delivery folks do.
To the dog, the FedEx folks show up all the time and the post office people come by every flipping day, ignoring all his barked warnings.
Even worse: the mailman is the only person to stop at the corner of our property for a long time. I believe, deep in my soul, the Hound thinks the mailman is peeing on our mailbox. Because that’s what a dog would do: mark territory.
It doesn’t matter who’s wearing the uniform and driving the delivery truck. To doggos, those are the colors of an invading army, and each person wearing them and stopping at the mailbox is sending a clear message: “Your home is now my territory, and so are the homes of all your neighbors and friends. Your warning barks don’t frighten me. I’ll be back tomorrow to pee on the mailbox and claim your home as mine. Do something about it, tough guy.”
Mystery Number 2: What do dogs think of cats?
Back when we had three cats, the Hound couldn’t figure them out.
He understood the rules: don’t go upstairs, don’t go in the dining room and stay off the couches. We trained him to do things and when he did them, he got rewarded with treats or affection. That’s the system.
Cats don’t listen. They don’t care about your stupid rules or wishes.
To help train the doggo, we have him sit in another room when food goes in his bowl. And it might be a few minutes before we tell him OK, go eat. He sits at attention, no problem. It’s like he’s in the army. He enjoys clear rules and learning new tricks.
There’s no way any of our cats would ever sit and wait for food, not even if you offered them treats and love.
Quite the opposite. Whenever they were hungry, they made sure you knew it. Joy the White (kinda like Gandalf the Grey but after fighting that demon thing) would go further. If she was pissed off, she’d make it literal by stalking into the room to glare at you while she peed in a corner, just to show she was upset about her food bowl being empty or some such thing.
To the Hound, the cats were unpredictable and immature little furballs with no brains or social skills.
If he saw one of them breaking the rules, like walking into the dining room, he’d police them, gently nosing them back into the kitchen. Trying to get them in line. It wasn’t aggressive, like he was the boss. It was incredulous. “Are you crazy? Don’t offend the Tall Wizards Who Control Light and Dark, because we have a good thing going here: warm house, soft beds, fresh food and their protection. Why are you trying to screw that up?”
This isn’t a question of brains. Cats are plenty intelligent and with a lot of effort, some people have trained them. With zero effort, you can watch them do clever things and get into all kinds of trouble. Like experimenting with gravity.
Dogs are pack animals and wired differently. Puppers simply don’t understand why the Tiny Furballs with Needle Claws have no social manners and refuse to learn things from the Tall Wizards, especially when the reward for learning things is yummies and love.
Mystery Number 3: The on-off Switch of Guard Dogginess
The Hound sees it as his job to (a) alert us when strangers or delivery people are outside, and (b) to guard the door.
This is fine normally. When we have a lot of people over, though, it can be a hassle and a mystery–because once people are in the kitchen or dining room, there might be 15 people there he doesn’t know, and he won’t bark at a single one. his tail and happily gets petted all night.
A similar thing happens the Hound hits the kennel: the kennel owners always let dogs out into a fenced area separated from the main run. Every time, the new dog goes to the fence to touch noses with all the other dogs, then they let that new dog into the main area with tiny terriers and Great Danes, with zero problems. They all play together.
Except none of that works when the dog can still see their owner. They’ll bark at the other dogs and do not get along. The Switch of Guard Dogginess going from OFF to ON. Back on duty.
I took this idea home and started putting the Hound in the library when guests push the doorbell. Mystery solved: if people are at the door, he’s on duty. Once people are past the foyer and in the kitchen or dining room, I let him out and everything’s great.
In his doggy brain, he’s thinking something like this: “Clearly, the Tall Wizards let all these people deep inside to our most sacred room, where we store all the food. So they’re friends. Friends who brought us MORE food as tribute. I have never smelled so many good things! Our pack is popular, which means our territory and power is growing. The mailman dares not challenge us now.”
For serious dog knowledge, here’s some pretty good stuff on dog body language.
You put water and wheat-powder stuff inside, push a button to use the Force, then POOF, out comes bread.
Sort of like this:
This breadmaker is in a nice, white box with all kinds of buttons.
Not included: Destroyed AT-AT shelter.
Asking price: Five bucks or one-quarter portion.
It’s cedar, medium-sized and fancy, while our Hound of the Baskervilles is black, large and not fancy at all.
If you don’t have a destroyed AT-AT handy as a shelter, this will do nicely, as long as you’re under 5’3″.
Once I finished building it, our dog sniffed at the treats inside, drank from the water bowl and ran off to chew on sticks and chase rabbits. He never entered it again.
Later, he explained to me that the whole point of being outside is to be outside, rain or sun, and that being rained on is good for you sometimes. It makes you appreciate the sunshine. He also said that kibbles are for cats and that when we’re gone, he sits on every chair in the house, not because he doesn’t know it’s wrong, but because rebellion is good for the soul.
Not included: Dog.
Asking price: An old Jiffy Peanut Butter jar of full of pennies, nickels and a couple of quarters.
FOUR REPORTER NOTEBOOKS STOLEN FROM THE NEWSROOM
I worked at a dying newspaper before working at dying newspapers was cool.
When the death spiral got fast and tight, they started rationing rolls of film, pens and reporter notebooks.
Yeah, they rationed notebooks. If you run out of paper while covering a story, hey, write on your forearm. It’s blank.
The second the supply cabinet got restocked, starving reporters rioted to grab all the film, pens and notebooks.
I still have enough reporter notebooks to roof a ranch-style house. They’re just the right size to put in your jacket pocket. Love ’em.
Not included: Stories for dying newspapers or rolls of film. Sorry. Threw the film out. Nobody even develops film anymore.
Asking price: A moleskin notebook that’s too nice for you to actually use, so you keep on writing on the back of envelopes to save the moleskin for the deepest of deep thoughts.
TWO SANSA MP3 PLAYERS
These are miniature technological wonders, tiny black boxes perfect for playing your favorite songs stolen from the interwebs, now that the only albums people buy are ones made of vintage vinyl and hoarded by bearded hipsters.
If you are not a bearded hipster, load these things up with your favorite songs for when you put on shorts and run around the neighborhood despite having two Hondas and a bicycle you never ride.
If you lose a player, who cares, because you have a spare with the SAME SONGS.
Actually included: Random music. Charge these up and yeah, there’s music on them. I have no idea whether this was during my Lenny Kravitz phase or not. Could be a bunch of Toad the Wet Sprocket.
Asking price: Two random CD’s you’ll never use again. I’m making a shiny roof for a bat house.
ONE RANDOM BOX FROM MY GARAGE
I’ve lived in NY, WA, Germany, the Netherlands, the Hinterlands, NY again, Spokaloo, Bellingham, Tacoma and now Monte—and every time I packed up to move, most things went into boxes that got transferred from one garage to another without anybody opening them. I paid attention during Greek Lit about that whole Pandora thing. You do NOT open boxes.
Whenever the garage door closes, these boxes put on Barry White songs and start multiplying.
Not included: A single clue as to what’s in the box.
Asking price: A random box from your garage, or enough C4 to atomize at least 45 boxes of stuff I’ll never look at again.
Five years ago, this was hot stuff. Small. Digital. Stick it in your pocket while you travel the world.
This is still the perfect camera for somebody learning to shoot or a starving college kid who realizes that even the smartest smart phone can’t zoom worth a damn.
Not included: Photos. You have to shoot them. Turn the dial to a setting you pretend to understand, frame the shot and push the button.
Asking price: Drive by with your windows down and I’ll happily Russel Wilson this thing into the soft cushions of your back seat.
Joy will never read this, because she skipped school all of her 18 years and the authorities never caught her for truancy. SHE WAS TOO FAST. But I wanted to write it, to have something about her that lasts, even if it’s simply floating on the interwebs.
Joy was always different.
When our son was born, the other two cats fled in terror and stayed in the basement for a month.
Joy stood guard, like a dog, and hissed at people who got too close while he was sleeping. She’d patrol outside his bedroom door, even when it was closed.
Strangers also made our other cats hide. But they were catnip to Joy, who’d walk right up to meow hello and meet everybody.
She was a good a noble cat, always playful, happy to cuddle, and only a smidge bitey if you tried to give her a bath.
I’ve had dogs, cats, salamanders, a snapping turtle and a spider as pets. Joy is one of my favorites.
So we have to put her down today, since she’s got pancreatic cancer. It’s time. She can’t walk much or take care of herself anymore.
There’s an old saying that every kid should have a dog or a cat. That pets are good for kids. They don’t judge you. If you’ve had an epically bad day, and open the front door to see a dog who’s insanely happy to see you, it can’t help to make you feel better.
Put a dog in every office and stress levels would drop like a rock. Joy was the same way.
Pets are good for kids for another reason: they teach you about life. How to take care of a kitten or puppy, how to train them, clean up their accidents, feed them regularly, take them on walks and to the vet. It’s almost training to be a mom or dad.
And finally, having pets teaches you how to let a loved one go when they die.
That’s an important part. Everybody needs to learn how to handle death, how to grieve. I’ve buried a lot of pets and lost a lot of grandparents and relatives. It’s never easy. But you learn to treasure each hour of every day, even it’s just sitting on a couch discovering fun new BBC shows with a cat purring on your tummy.
Thank you, Joy—you mattered, and you’ll be missed.
This is funny, sure. But the Series of Tubes is packed with funny little things involving dogs, cats and kids with painted faces at county fairs who like turtles.
Let’s dissect this little piece of film to see what makes it work.
First, there are no words getting in the way of the images. This isn’t a PowerPoint slideshow. Nobody has to explain the joke, and it actually works better than English speakers like me have no idea what the announcer or anybody is saying, though it would not shock me if this is Scandanavian, if not Swedish, and make me have a sad for not speaking Swedish.
Second, there’s actually a structure to it, despite being so short. There are two setups before we get to the payoff, two different dogs doing the right thing, and ignoring all the food and chew toys, before the last dog decides obedience courses are a free buffet.
Third, the Benny Hill music makes it all work. Right when the setups are over and we get our payoff, the music puts you right there, and the golden retriever rewards us, not once or twice, but again and again, going after every treat in sight and ignoring all commands.
This snippet of moving pictures gives us the biggest possible gap between expectation (obedience) and result (chaos).