Culture: Stories & Lit
Letter to an Adoptable Dog
Cartoon Dog

Dear Adoptable Dog:

Please find attached my curriculum vitae, submitted for consideration for the position as your person. As you can see from my history, I have a lengthy and proven track record of excellence and responsibility in all aspects of pet worship. I can provide documentation in the form of photo albums, memorial stones, clothes with muddy paw-print stains and memories etched in my heart.

Fun One
Waste Management Administrator
Curator, Dead Things
Fecal Quality Assurance Manager (Served on the infamous 1999 “Intestinal Bug Diarrhea” Tour.)
Veterinary Liaison
Collection Specialist, Torn-Paper-Towel-Roll Division
Inventory Control, Victuals
Inventory Control, Recreational Items
Inventory Control, Fashion Accessories
Inventory Control, Anything Else You Want or Need to be Happy
Certified Toy-Batting-Abatement Technician (My motto: Like it Never Even Happened!)
Wide-Spectrum Stains Eradication Team Leader (Taught “Introduction to Blotting” for many years.)
Limousine Driver (Have my own stretch Subaru.)
Grooming or Grooming-Mitigation Expert (Whichever you prefer.)
Bedding Evaluation and Selection Specialist (Hashtag #Themoreitcoststhebetter)
Chuck-It Master (Top speed, clocked at 57 MPH, longest throw, 40 feet.)
Plant, Yard and Soil Restoration Management (Designed excavations repair program You Dig, I Fill.)
Nutritional Counselor (And if that doesn’t work, Flatulence Coordinator.)
Psychological Consultant (Well versed in the canine mind, having apprenticed with several, shall we say, “focused” dogs.)
Squeaker Collector

I am not only hard-working and have a great sense of humor, I firmly believe in three things: bringing home a fresh-roasted, grocery-store chicken every week (yes, the kind you will smell before I round the last corner); giving you your bedding right out of the dryer when it’s at its warmest and fluffiest; and finally (my most fervently held belief when it comes to dogs), never talking on a cell phone while walking a dog.

I hope you will consider me for the position.

Elaine Sichel
Prospective Human Companion

Culture: Stories & Lit
The Addict
 humor fletcher cicadas

In roughly two weeks, my dog Fletcher will be very sad.

And, he will most likely be going through withdrawal.

I say that because I fear Fletcher is addicted to eating cicadas. Granted, the dog has a well-documented history of eating bizarre things (even his vet has been amazed) but this is different. Prior to the cicadas arriving, I would have described Fletcher as your quintessential Golden Retriever. Friendly, good-natured and eager to please, he is simply a joy to have around. He comes quickly when called, insists on being by my side at all times and, honestly, likes me better than anything else in his world. Or so I thought. As a psychologist I’m trained to recognize addictive behavior and, in the past month, I’ve seen some disturbing signs from Fletcher.

Addiction has telltale signs. Addicts become fixated and pushy in their attempts to obtain their fix. They will travel to forbidden places to find what they think they need. They refuse to listen and will ignore the pleas of loved ones begging them to stop.

Normally sociable, they now prefer to spend their time pursuing their fix. Sometimes, they don’t even try to hide their use. You catch them in the act and they show no remorse, no shame. Often, they don’t even seem to care about your reaction. Many addicts are able to overcome their obsession but there is always the danger of replacing one addiction for another.

Maybe I’m overanalyzing so you decide. Here’s Fletcher’s recent behavior.

Normally the only time Fletcher lets me know he really wants to go outside is when he spots his nemesis, the chipmunk. Then he stands by the door and wines but if I ignore him, he soon stops. Now, after being outside for the first time of the day (apparently after getting his morning taste of the cicadas), Fletcher stands by the door, paces, whines loudly, then frantically searches the house for me. (The first time he did this, I thought something was very wrong, like a fire broke out or an intruder—seriously—he was that insistent). And Fletcher will not stop pestering me until I let him outside. Does that sound pushy and fixated?

There’s more. Usually Fletcher enjoys hanging out in the back yard, exploring the entire area, being careful to stay out of the flowerbeds (where he is forbidden to go). After about fifteen minutes he will sit by the door and patiently wait for me to let him back inside. Not anymore. After spotting Fletcher nosing around in my flowerbed, I repeatedly call him, but I’m ignored. I see he is eating something and beg him to stop.

Finally, he raises his head, chewing and swallowing quickly, and there is dirt around his mouth and nose. Fletcher looks at me like he has never seen me before in his life. I walk over to him, scold him, but he doesn’t seem to care. I take him by his collar and begin to lead him back to the house. Fletcher resists and I realize that he would rather be somewhere else than with me. I am heartbroken.

I am hopeful all this will change once the cicadas are gone and I’ll have my old dog back. The psychologist in me knows that recovery from addiction is difficult because once you’re hooked on something it is hard to give it up. Oftentimes addicts unwittingly substitute one addictive behavior for another so as not to miss the thrill of it all. I suspect this will be true of Fletcher as well.

You see, as I was walking Fletcher back to the house, I said to him, “You know, once the cicadas are gone you’ll have to go cold turkey to get over them.”

Fletcher jerked his head around to face me and with a gleam in his eye gave me a look that said, “Did you just say turkey?!”

Culture: DogPatch
Talking Dog with David Rosenfelt
Author of Dogtripping
dogtripping rosenfelt

Mystery-lovers know David Rosenfelt for his “Andy Carpenter” series. The fictional Andy is an exceedingly reluctant attorney whose real passion is dog rescue, particularly Golden Retriever rescue. He’s most likely to be persuaded to take a case if a dog’s somehow involved.

What his readers may not know is that Rosenfelt is himself dedicated to dogs. He and his wife—whom he credits as the real force behind their dog-welfare work—started out volunteering in the LA shelter system and in short order, found themselves running a home-based rescue and placement group. At times, they had as many as 40 dogs, some of them unadoptable due to age or infirmity.

His recent book, Dogtripping: 25 Rescues, 11 Volunteers, and 3 RVs on Our Canine Cross-Country Adventure, is nonfiction, the story of relocating the pack from the West Coast to the East—an improbable and wildly complicated exercise made possible, he says, by the extraordinary help and generosity of friends and fans.

While on a Dogtripping book tour earlier this year, Rosenfelt gave a reading at a local Berkeley bookstore that benefited a northern California rescue group, and The Bark took advantage of the opportunity to talk to him in person. Following are the edited highlights of that conversation, which took place in our office and included an inordinate amount of laughter (which we didn’t transcribe).

Q: Why did you choose Maine?
A: My wife and I are both originally from the East Coast, and we wanted to have real weather. Also, we have grown kids and two grandkids in NYC. We chose Maine after my son, who went to law school with a guy who lived there, went to his wedding and said we should take a look at it. We did, and we liked it.

Q: In Dogtripping, you suggest that the move happened in spite of you. Would you do it again, and would you do anything differently?
A: I wouldn’t do it again. What would I do differently? I don’t think anything. We had a great group of volunteers. If everybody else had their option, they would’ve done much the same, just left me at home. They literally say it was one of the greatest adventures of their lives. It was just terrible, but everyone else loved it.

Q: How did the dogs take to RV travel?
A: They all found their favorite resting places; it turns out that there are many places for dogs to sleep in an RV. They were fine, really—no trouble.

Q: What’s a typical day like at casa Rosenfelt?
A: The dogs wake us up at 5:15 every morning. I go downstairs and they get quiet. (The first day I was gone [on the book tour], they let my wife sleep until seven. She woke them up.) Around 6:30, I feed, I clean up the outside after that, which is quite a job. We have a doggie door that’s like the Lincoln Tunnel, they go through that, and there’s a 60-by-60-foot fenced-in concrete area, because we didn’t want them to bring mud inside. Then we decided that’s not good enough. Last year, we put in a gate that gives them access to about an acre of forest to run around if they want, and now we’re adding another acre to that (all fenced). But they want to be inside.
Then I give the medicine, which is a major production. That’s it, unless I go to the vet, which happens with alarming frequency—I go there three times a week at least, and it’s a 40-minute drive. Around 4:30 or so, I feed again. It’s not really that hard. A day only becomes a hassle if someone’s coming over; then you have to prepare.

Q: Over the years that you and your wife operated the Tara Foundation, you must’ve become quite an expert on dogs.
A: I’m much more of a dog lunatic than an expert. You’d be amazed how little I know about dogs, and certainly nothing about breeds.

Q: Do you work with behaviorists?
A: We’ve never worked with behaviorists for our dogs at home. They’d tell us we couldn’t do what we do. For the foundation, we had a trainer who did temperament testing.

Q: You mentioned that you’re particular about vets. What are your criteria—what do you look for?
A: Everything with us is magnified, so a vet has to “get” us—he or she has to understand us. A vet also has to be responsive. I want to know things; I want information to be quantified. We flew east to interview vets before we moved and decided on one who turned out to be not as great as we initially thought. Then we found a vet in the phone book and he turned out to be fantastic. He understands me. He talks to me like I know what I’m talking about. Quality of life is his key concern. He really knows what he’s doing.

Q: You take in older dogs and dogs with health problems. How do you deal emotionally with the loss of a dog?
A: We take in dogs who are doomed if we don’t take them. You just have to adjust your mindset. It’s all about the dog’s quality of life. You have to focus on the fact that for whatever time you had them, they were happy and safe and loved. It’s very sad, but there’s something peaceful about it, too.

Q: Are you involved in rescue now that you’re living in Maine?
A: There’s no need for us to function as a placement group, but we do still take in dogs. We just got two seven-year-old Great Pyrenees—sisters—who are just fantastic. Sometimes we’ve gotten dogs who came as a pair but once they were in our house, they never saw each other again. These two are bonded at the hip; wherever one is, so is the other.

Q: How would you compare living in Maine to living in California?
A: It’s night and day. There are no pretentions in Maine. If you see a pickup truck, you can bet there’s a dog in it, always. In California, people would come into our house—workmen—and they were like deer caught in the headlights when our dogs mobbed them. In Maine, it’s business as usual.
Someone said to my wife recently that in LA, they ask what kind of car you drive, and in the South, what church you belong to. In Maine, they ask what kind of dog you have.

Discover more at davidrosenfelt.com.

Culture: Stories & Lit
Tips on Unemployment from My Dog
Looking at unemployment through the eyes of my four-legged friend.

I am unemployed. There. I said it. So what if I’ve been in denial? So what if I’ve spent the last two months “on vacation,” visiting with friends and family, collecting severance and happily not waking to an alarm for the first time in three years. Now, however, my current state of joblessness is starting to sink in. I’ve finished my “funemployment” phase and have moved into “Uh-oh, I have bills piling up” mode. It occurs to me that looking at the world through the eyes of my newly rescued Spaniel mix, Murphy, might calm my worries.

Tonight when I walked Murphy, I realized that he sees things from a completely different vantage point than I do. I mean, obviously— he’s approximately four and a half feet shorter than me. But he also sees and appreciates things in a simpler way. Here are a few of the lessons he’s teaching me every day.

Appreciate routine. Since I don’t have a back yard for Murphy to romp in, we go for walks at least four times a day. When he hears the jingle of his leash or hears me ask “Wanna…,” his eyes light up as though he’s been offered five pounds of raw beef with no limitations. Who knew a walk could be so exciting! I might be unemployed but that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate my own new routines and embrace them: a morning smoothie, checking TMZ.com to see what LA gossip I missed, logging into my email account to see if any job leads have come through, walking my completely lovable dog around my neighborhood. I’m learning to appreciate whatever routine I have and be grateful for it, because when I’m back in the nine-to-five routine, I’m going to dream of the “good old days” when I could do whatever I wanted.

Eat well. I’m pretty sure I feed my dog better than I feed myself. I pay a little more for his food, but do it happily because I feel I’m extending the time we’ll have together. Since I’ve been unemployed, I may not have a lot of money to go out to dinner, but I can still meet a friend for a drink and an appetizer at a trendy new hot spot. Just getting out of the house and hanging with my friends makes me feel better. A self-proclaimed “foodie,” I’ve also decided it’s a good idea to start cooking, so I search the Internet for money-saving recipes and invite my friends over for a meal. They appreciate the home-cooking— and maybe next time, they’ll take me out to the newest hot spot for dinner on them!

Networking is important. Now, Murphy is not a dog who “networks”— he’s not looking for a job or trying to start a business. He is, however, very interested in other dogs, sniffing private parts and making friends. He remembers where he previously ran into Gizmo or Spencer, and lingers in hope of running into one of them again. When we’re out walking, we invariably run into a handful of dogs and their people. The dogs wag and sniff, the people chat. You never know when you might hear about a job lead or find out that someone works at that great firm where you’ve been hoping to get your foot in the door. Network, network, network: it’s the best way to get that next job.

Take time to smell the proverbial roses. When I worked full time, I often forgot to look at what was going on around me because I was so busy tackling the crowded freeways, handing in that overdue report or grabbing lunch on the run. When I walk Murphy, he sees and smells everything: the halfeaten cookie on the ground, the wild rosemary by the side of the house and, if he’s lucky, another dog. While I’m unemployed, I’m trying to take things a little slower, enjoy the view from my patio, mow my own lawn, window shop, sit at the local coffee shop and people-watch. Enjoy life.

Wake up on the right side of the bed. I am definitely not a morning person. However, when I wake to a cute little dog staring at me with his puppy-dog eyes, willing me to get up and take him for a walk, how can I not start the day with a smile on my face? With a beginning like that, I can’t help but have a good morning that sometimes lasts all day. I may not have checks coming in, but I have a dog who loves and relies on me. If I’m in a better mood, I’m more apt to have a spring in my step and more open to the opportunities around me.

Since I adopted Murphy, I’ve tried to see things through his eyes. If you’re currently unemployed, consider adopting an animal or volunteering at a local shelter. It will help you pass the time until you head back to the work-day world.

Culture: Stories & Lit
The Lowdown on Life with Three Dachshunds

It never fails to amuse all of us when all 12 pounds of Molly intimidates all 25 pounds of Baxter. And it is often. If Baxter even looks at Molly’s rawhide bone while she’s chewing on it, out comes a deep, serious growl from Molly. It’s a sound you would think impossible to come out of such a tiny muzzle. It’s almost like there’s a pit bull hiding behind the couch, and it’s throwing its growl. Every time I see it happen it reminds me that it’s not always the largest dog that’s the “big” dog. There have been instances where Baxter has gotten a little too close for Molly’s comfort, and she’s taken enough of a nip to leave a mark. What’s Maya doing when this is happening? Nothing. She just goes on blissfully chewing her bone. I guess when Molly joined the household she and Maya came to some kind of understanding —namely, that Molly would be Maya’s muscle. Which is sort of strange, since Baxter and Molly spend a lot of their time shadowing each other. But, make no mistake: Baxter is always Molly’s bitch, and not the other way around. However, Maya and Molly’s fondness for each other is at its strongest when they’re sleeping.

I doubt that it’s a girl thing. They weren’t littermates. Molly is three; Maya is almost ten. It’s hard to conceive of any logical kind of reason that they would look for each other when they’re looking to catch a nap or settle in for the night. But they do.

You can find them in any one of several body configurations, usually ones that would put a contortionist to shame. But there is always a common trait in their contortions: they are always touching. You would be as likely to find Molly resting her head on Maya’s neck as you would Maya doing the same to Molly. Each uses the other’s body as a blanket; each often buries her entire face under the other’s warm, soft belly fur. They have taken snuggling to an art form. But I think what makes an even bigger impact on me, and makes their behavior even more amazing, is the way that they deliberately seek each other out.

We keep the dogs in the family room at night. They all sleep on a big, brown, comfy chair that, at one time, I used to enjoy. Baxter is usually the first one to climb up the little Dachshund stairs at the base of the chair, where his bulk takes up most of the prime real estate. Next comes Molly, and without a growl or a glance she shoves Baxter out of the way and claims the choicest spot next to one of the chair’s arms. Baxter will lay his head down on the chair and start snoring away. Molly? She sits. And she waits. For Maya.

Maya is always the last to arrive. Part of that is age, and part of it is simply another of Maya’s inexplicable phobias. But, once in the family room Maya climbs the stairs, steps over Baxter’s bulk, and sidles up to Molly. It’s then they find a suitable configuration for them, one that best ensures two things: that they are warm and that they are one.

I am reluctant to say that I think that Molly and Maya have each other’s backs, because they are dogs. But because they are my dogs I’m going to say that they do. Maya and Molly have each other’s backs.

News: Editors
Happy Greeters
Dog Joy at its finest

The other day I was looking through a round of recent submissions to our Smiling Dog contest, when I came upon this one which truly made my day! It is our first video entry, and it could not have been more perfect. Annette K. seems to be inspiring her Boxer pups, Sable and Woody to give her a big smile and in doing so, has spread their joy to thousands. We posted this on our FB page and already almost 50,0000 people have viewed it.

Her pup-perfect pitch even woke up my dozing dogs who seemed to want to join in on the fun.

One comment on FB, said that they "remind me of the old SNL skit..."we're just two wild and crazy guys." What do you think? And tell us, how do your dogs greet you? Do they have their own happy dance?

Culture: DogPatch
British Invasion Redux

Blame it on the London Olympics, Harry Potter, Downton Abbey or fascination with the royals, but Brit-speak seems to be all the rage these days. Oft-heard terms such as cheers, brilliant, posh, loo, toff, mate, queue and even crikey are creeping into our everyday conversation. So, let’s bring these dog-related expressions across the pond as well.

Dog’s bollocks: Something really fantastic. (Not to be confused with “bollocks,” which is rubbish, er, nonsense.) Often shortened to “the dog’s.” Perhaps derived from dogs’ fascination with and time spent investigating their “down-unders.”

Mutt’s nuts: Something fantastic or excellent. Often shortened to “the mutt’s,” which is another way of saying, yup, the “dog’s bollocks.”

Puppy’s privates: The best; yet another, slightly more refined, take on the previous two.

Dog’s breakfast: A real mess. (Ed. note: I guess they don’t do gourmet pet food over there.)

Dog’s dinner: To be overdressed, or ostentatiously decked out.

Dog ride: Tagging along with someone doing an errand, or simply out and about.

Dog collar: A type of collar worn by the clergy. Also, the oversize head on a pint of Guinness.

Dog-end: A corruption of “docked-end”— a cigarette butt.

Dogsbody: A go-fer, or someone doing menial or boring work.

Dog-eye: Keep a look out.

Doggy: Stylish, of smart appearance.

Dogs are barking: Feet are tired and aching. For example, “Do you mind if I sit? My dogs are barking!”

Dog’s wages : Working just for food as payment for one’s services (Scots slang).

Give a dog a bad name: Someone with a bad reputation who’s blamed for everything.

And, lest we forget, there’s Cockney rhyming slang:
Dog and bone: Telephone.
Dog and pup: Cup.
Dog and duck: Ruck (a fight).
Dog’s tooth: Truth.

To all of which we say, “Dog save the Queen!” Given her devotion to her Corgis, that’s not much of a stretch.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Loca the Pug Who Cannot Run
She’s happy and deeply loved

An amusing video of Loca, the pug from Ireland who can’t run properly, has been making the rounds online among both runners and dog lovers. Many runners have made comments about this video along the lines of, “Even after all the miles I’ve run. I still feel this way sometimes!” In the dog world, the comments have ranged from being charmed by the video to being appalled that people are laughing at a dog with a medical problem.

The first time I saw the video, I felt uncomfortable about having fun at Loca’s expense. I could see that she clearly has some sort of medical condition that was affecting her movement and balance, but I can’t deny that I still enjoyed the funny song and some of the footage. Then, when the note came up at the end of the video explaining that Loca has a mild brain disorder, that her family has decided it’s too risky to operate on, that the vet feels she is happy and will live to old age in good health, I was fully on board.

Loca has a full and happy life, and it’s easy to see that she is absolutely adored by her two-legged and four-legged family members alike. It seems the video is not making fun of her, but sharing the joy that her family gets from her to those of us in the wider world. With that straight in my mind and heart, I am a fan of Loca and love to watch her.

What do you think of Loca’s video?

Culture: Stories & Lit
Fire Hydrant Chats

At times, I forget that my dog, Floyd, can’t talk. Like, all the time. During our long walks, I’ll comment on the weather, the progress of a neighbor’s new fence, my plans for the day. My constant chatter doesn’t seem to bother him, as long as he can stop and leave some messages of his own.

Dog-behavior books give conflicting advice regarding human/canine conversation. Some experts recommend speaking in cheerful tones. One book suggested singing to dogs, a constant flowing river of happy sounds. I wonder what kind of music Floyd likes best. Howlin’ Wolf, or perhaps the Stray Cats? Other trainers recommend silence. Words other than commands only confuse the pooch. Wolves don’t chitchat. Save the speech for commands, for the words that matter: Sit. Stay. Snuggle.

I’m in the first camp. Dogs have been hanging around with our species long enough to know that we constantly voice our thoughts. I believe they’ve learned to tune us out until key words like ride, fetch and treat bubble to the top of our verbal slurry.

So I don’t think my non-command words confuse Floyd. If anything, I think they embarrass him. This may be in part because of my horrible timing. We’ve had several instances where passersby misunderstood my comments. While Floyd circled, shimmied and hopped to achieve the perfect angle for his mark on a fire hydrant, I said, laughing, “What are you doing, you freak?” Unfortunately, I posed the question as a woman pulled up next to us with her car’s window down to inquire about Floyd’s breed (only he knows, and he’s not telling). Instead of letting my comment die a quiet death, I tried to explain that I’d been talking to my dog, not to her. Her expression said it all: “Well, freaks must come in pairs then.”

Once, I said, “Come here, little man” to Floyd at the exact moment a diminutive gentleman turned the corner. How I wished I could scoop up the words in a plastic dog baggie. I wonder if Floyd is relieved that I have finally stopped calling him “Big Stink” and “Monkey Butt” in public after one too many sharp glares from someone nearby.

Calling “Get over here, you handsome devil” while Floyd played in the leaves next to my married neighbor was probably a poor choice of words. Particularly as another neighbor overheard me. Relationships on our street have been strained since.

Not only is my timing awful, I have a constant and inexplicable desire to explain everything to Floyd. “We can’t go to Reigning Cats and Dogs for a peanut butter biscuit today. I didn’t bring money.” His gaze slides to the man walking by who overhears us. I mean, overhears me.

Though I know Floyd is not going to whip out his daily planner to coordinate our schedules, I always explain why we’re taking a shorter route, or why he needs to hurry up. Dogs probably rank “clocks” up there with “lids” as the worst human inventions ever. Yet, I have said, “Give me five minutes, buddy” more than once. I have said this in front of people. Floyd chomps on an acorn to fill the awkward silence that inevitably follows. Signs instruct owners to “curb your dog.” I should really curb my comments to my dog.

My conversations with Floyd shine an ugly light on what kind of parent I would be. After he gobbled some rancid dumpster meat before I could stop him, I yelled (in cheerful singsong), “What were you thinking? We spend a fortune on your organic kibble. If you get sick, don’t come bellyaching to me.”

Did I really blurt, “You know better”?

Yes, yes I did.

And when I say things like, “Now, what did I just say to you?” I only shame myself.

Watching Floyd’s helicopter-tailhappy- dance when I ask, “Are you my best boy?” I realize that he sometimes gets a kick out of the babble. He’ll make a play bow, which is canine for “Well, yes I am. Now toss me that squeaky toy and let me show you a good time.”

We’ve all said things we regret. I’ve happened to say many of those things to my dog. He doesn’t hold it against me. A long walk, squirrel patrol and a possible biscuit later make my monkey chatter completely bearable. Or so he tells me.

Culture: Stories & Lit
My Dog Tried to Pee on Baby Jesus
The Visit
My Dog Tried to Pee on Baby Jesus

We were on our daily walk, and my dog became startled by a cow in someone’s nativity scene. Christmas decorations in general freak him out, so during the holidays, we approach many reindeer from behind, so he can sniff them and see that they aren’t real and aren’t going to chase us down the street. I don’t want him afraid of things in his environment, so I always make the effort to let him work through his fears.

Anyway, we’re walking along, and all of a sudden he stops and stares. I look ahead, and realize that the cow is staring directly at my dog. Or so he thinks. I smile, because his child-like discovery of new things is always refreshing to me. I walk him around to the rear of the cow, I touch it and let him sniff my hand, then he approaches the cow nonchalantly and stands in the middle of the nativity scene. He starts sniffing Baby Jesus, which I think is very touching. Of all the statues surrounding him, the baby lying on straw is the one that draws his attention. Then he starts to lift his leg. “No! Oh no!” I sputter, as I hurriedly pull on his leash and get him away from there. I’m not sure if any pee landed on its intended target — I was too ashamed to look closely and wanted to leave the scene in case anyone had witnessed our “crime” and wanted to give me an earful about how disrespectful it was.

I am a Christian, and I think my dog is too. I wouldn’t let him pee on anyone’s religious icon, because I believe that my dog should learn to respect all faiths. I can understand him not knowing the significance of icons from religions he’s not familiar with. But why on earth would he pee on Baby Jesus? When I talk about Jesus, my dog settles down and gives me a sage look — “Oh yes, Jesus. It’s not well promoted, but he was very good to the animals.” Christmas hymns are one of his favorite kinds of music and put him in a very relaxed state. And when we set up our Christmas tree, he alternates between lying where he can gaze at it with admiration and lying underneath its sheltering boughs, looking like he is getting the best rest he gets all year. For these reasons, I’m pretty sure my dog is Christian. So, his peeing on Baby Jesus must have some amazing, profound explanation.

Has God sent my dog to warn us of worshipping false idols? The Old Testament commands us not to worship any “graven image.” The companies that sell these religious figures assure us that as long as we put God first and realize that the figurine is just a figurine, then our money is well spent on inspiring others by our faith. But is that why we display a nativity scene these days? Lately there have been so many legal arguments over displaying nativity scenes on public property. It seems that as the arguments build, more and more people are buying nativity scenes and displaying them on their front lawns. Do they buy the nativity scene because they are divinely inspired to demonstrate their faith, or do they buy the nativity scene out of anger, daring a neighbor to say something about it? Dogs have a wonderful sense of smell. Perhaps my dog smelled the anger hormones left behind by the homeowner as he thrust his nativity scene on his lawn, laughing a cynical laugh and planning what he would do to the person who dared to challenge his display of faith.

Then again, perhaps it was the quality of the figurine that my dog took issue with. This was a cheap-looking, plastic nativity scene. It was fairly new, but if you’re going to have a representation of the Baby Jesus, shouldn’t it be the best quality that money can buy? Perhaps my dog knew that this was a cheap imitation that didn’t stand up to the life that Jesus led and the lives that he is still touching today. Could it be that my dog decided to let someone know exactly what he thought of that piss-poor representation of our Lord and Savior? Or maybe my dog smelled the cynical hormones left behind by the worker in the Jesus factory. Maybe the factory owners laugh as they count their money, knowing that they can charge whatever they want and cut costs wherever they want, because no one would dare say that Baby Jesus is too expensive. Or perhaps they get irritated with the frustrations of their job, forgetting about the magic they create. “How in the heck did we end up with 30 Marys and only 15 Josephs? Jeez, the guys running the assembly line are idiots!” Maybe my dog was smelling the hormones left behind by workers who handled the Baby Jesus.

Or perhaps it was the timing of the episode. This happened around January 8. For some reason, people in my neighborhood left their Christmas decorations out longer than usual this year. I don’t know if it’s because of the depressing news about the economy — maybe people are trying to hold onto the Christmas spirit a little longer. Or maybe it’s because we had a lot of dreary, cold days around the first of the year, and people just procrastinated going outside and taking down their Christmas decorations. At any rate, perhaps my dog is sage enough to know that if we drag out the Christmas season, it will become just another set of dreary days to get through and will lose its magic. People need to put their Christmas decorations away so that when they pull them out again next Thanksgiving, the decorations will have the needed effect of pulling on our emotions and making us present to the love of mankind that we neglect the rest of the year.

All of these things run through my mind as we make our way back home. What is the message my dog was trying to send to that homeowner? I have learned some amazing things by watching my dog, and what was I meant to learn this time? When we get settled back at the house, I sit on the couch and stare at my dog, trying to figure out what he was communicating. Then all of a sudden the realization dawns on me. I know exactly why my dog tried to pee on Baby Jesus. It’s because another dog peed on Baby Jesus first!