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Laurie Notaro

Laurie Notaro was born in Brooklyn, raised in Phoenix, and packed her bags for Eugene, Ore., once she realized that since she was past 30, her mother could no longer report her as a teenage runaway. Author of The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club, among others, her most recent book is There's a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell.

Culture: Stories & Lit
Dog of the Day
Day care diva earns her title.
Three Dogs Art

My dog Maeby has always gotten good grades.

Every evening when I pull into the driveway at the doggy day care center that she attends,Maeby, a fluffy Aussie/Lab mix, is waiting for me, along with her daily report card.
 

Although it is fanciful thinking that one day the center might provide classes in “The Mailman Is Only in It for the Pension and Not Your Territory, Therefore the Barking Looks a Little Silly,” “A Fart Is a Fart and Not an Invisible Stench Rocket, So Stop Looking for It” or “Picking Up Your Own Poop,”my dog consistently got good marks in areas of interest such as playing nicely with others and making new friends, and was apparently well-heeled in the saucy arts, since it was reported that the flirty miss had a new boyfriend every week. While I wasn’t exactly proud that my little Lady was shaking it up for the Tramps on the playground, I was delighted when she was promoted to the position of “greeter” at the center, which is a dog who is assigned to play with a new dog in the doggy day care pack to get them adjusted and make their transition easier. She was even asked to participate in a marketing video for the day care center in which, according to her report card,“Maeby stole the show with her playtime skills.”

I mean, really. That one is still up on our refrigerator.

So, honestly, I was a little surprised when day after day, week after week, I would pick Maeby up from day care, get her report card and glance at the chalkboard of honor that stands at the entrance to the center, only to see that the Dog of the Day—the highest honor of distinction that any dog could receive—was proclaimed to be Blackjack.

Last week it had been Mossimo.

The week before it had been Sammie.

The week before that, Ziggy.

The previous week, it went to Hercules Wu, whose parents had once taken our leash because theirs looked similar and then returned it a week later with HERCULES WU written across the back side of it in black permanent marker, along with Hercules Wu’s phone number.

You know, I thought to myself as I drove home with Maeby fast asleep in the back of the car, I don’t know what’s going on here, but something’s got to give. Look at her, so busy greeting and teasing all the boys on the playground that she falls asleep the minute she gets in the car! My dog is a hardworking hussy, pouring her heart out, giving her all, and what does she get in return? A nice report card. A scratch on the ears. That’s not enough, I said to myself; that is not enough for my dog.

“I hate to break it to you,”my husband said that night at dinner after I had voiced my Dog of the Day concerns.“But I highly doubt Maeby is upset about not being The Chosen One. She is far more concerned at the moment with licking the floor where you dropped a hot dog yesterday.”

“That’s not the point,” I argued. “Do you not remember that Maeby was the one who stole the show with her playtime skills? Because if you’ve forgotten, I can show it to you.”

My husband sighed.“She doesn’t know how to spell ‘Maeby,’ ” he offered. “Just point to the sign the next time you’re there and tell her she is the Dog of the Day.”

I was stunned. “If that’s how you prefer to handle a crisis—with deceit and trickery—then I don’t even want you in this house when I finally have to tell her she’s adopted,” I stuttered.

“Did you ever think,” he finally said, “that maybe those dogs got the distinction because they earned it? That maybe they just gave a little bit extra?” I gasped, not knowing what to say, but my mind began to race.Was it possible that the other dogs got better grades than Maeby? Could it be it true that other dogs contributed more, were harder working? How could that be? Maeby was a greeter, showing new dogs the way, making them feel at ease, helping them with the introduction to the group. That was real dogitarian work.What could the other dogs possibly be doing that could outshine that? Was Sammie brokering peace accords between Indian and Pakistani dogs? Was Mossimo peacefully fighting for the rights of dogs not to be forced into wearing hats and sweaters if they chose not to? Was Blackjack removing land mines, making the playground safe for everyone else? Had Ziggy finally talked Mr.Winkle into retiring? And what was Hercules Wu doing, besides stealing leashes? Was Hercules Wu a greeter? I really doubted it. Was Hercules Wu asked to be in the video? Probably not. Did Hercules Wu steal the show with his playtime skills and his appropriated leash?

Not very likely.

So I decided to do the only thing I really could do, and that was ask. I wanted to know what the Dog of the Day criteria were, what the mitigating factors might be, and then tackle the problem from that angle. But when I went to pick Maeby up after her next day at the center, I was not at all prepared for what I saw.

It was an empty chalkboard.

No one had been proclaimed Dog of the Day yet. This was my—and Maeby’s—chance. I stood still for a moment, listening. I heard nothing, not the rustling of collars, or leashes, or barking.Everyone, it seemed, was outside on the playground.

Maeby stole the show with her playtime skills.

Maeby stole the show with her playtime skills.

I took a step forward toward the front desk.

Maeby stole the show with her playtime skills.

Where they keep the chalk.

I took another step. And another. And another,my steps becoming quicker as I neared the desk. And the chalk. And my dog’s redemption.

And I saw it, a pink, slim tube of chalk, right there next to the computer keyboard. I was a step or two away from reaching over and grabbing it, because it was lying right there in the open, when I stopped.

Maeby stole the show with her playtime skills.

It was true. But how would Maeby feel if she knew that I stole the title of Dog of the Day and gave it to her,with her name written all over the back of it in pink chalk? I didn’t take another step.

Instead, I waited there for Mandie, the center’s owner, to bring Maeby out with Hercules Wu’s leash, and then told her that Maeby would be coming in an extra day that week because I had finally made an appointment to have my terminally ill 19-year old cat, Barnaby, cross over into the Kitty Light. It would be better if she spent that day shaking her milkshake on the playground at the likes of Ziggy and Blackjack, I told Mandie, than to be at our house when something sad was going to happen.

And I was right—the day we sent Barnaby to a hereafter stocked with an all-you-can-eat buffet of Fancy Feast and Pounce was awfully sad, beginning with the moment we brought Maeby over to his cat bed to say good-bye to him. She nudged him gently, licked his head, sat and waited for Hercules Wu’s leash, and was off to day care.

When I went to pick her up later that day, I couldn’t wait to see her. Although Barnaby’s passing couldn’t have gone any smoother due to our sympathetic and patient vet, it was as emotional as any experience of letting a friend of 19 years go could be. My eyes were red and puffy when I arrived, and as I walked into the lobby, Maeby bounded in through the side door.

“What a good girl!” I said as I scratched behind her ears and she jumped and hopped around with excitement.“I’m so happy to see you!”

“That’s not all you should see,”Mandie said, and I looked up to see her pointing away from us.

I looked in that direction, and that’s when I saw it. The chalkboard, on which Maeby’s name was written in pink, swirly letters.

“You’re Dog of the Day?” I asked as she jumped and I jumped a little too, as I petted her head and she panted with excitement. “That’s wonderful! Look at that! Maeby is Dog of the Day!”

Mandie handed over the leash and we were just about to walk out the door when I realized I still had a question and was dying for the answer.

“So,” I said before I pushed the door all the way open. “How do you know who’s Dog of the Day? In what way do you judge who deserves it?”

Mandie laughed.“It’s not who ‘deserves’ it,” she explained as she smiled. “It’s who needs it the most.” “Oh,” I said as I smiled back. “I think that’s a great way. That’s really nice. Thank you.”

“Don’t forget her report card,”Mandie said as she pulled it from her pocket. “Maeby has two new boyfriends on the playground, you know.”

 

 

“Dog of the Day” © 2007 by Laurie Notaro, included in Howl: A Collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit, October 2007 from Crown Publishers. Used with permission.