Graduation Day

By Kate Hammett, February 2012, Updated February 2015

One of the interesting things about insecurity is that on any given day, even the most self-aware, seasoned professional in the field cannot say exactly how it will manifest itself. They can tell you with certainty that their hands will sweat, or that they’ll feel an onset of that low-level panicky buzz that is adrenaline surging through their system. But what they cannot explain is why, while buttoning their fly and listening to the neighbor’s sound system throb with the vintage wail of Robert Plant singing “Whole Lotta Love,” a powerful sense of dread will overtake them no less keenly than if someone had pulled a muslin hood over their head and kidnapped them.


It's graduation day. Dog graduation day. Lynn, the trainer, takes out the little boom box and pops in the CD playing—no kidding—“Pomp and Circumstance.” But in Lyle’s meager economy, it’s big stuff, and buttoning his damn fly is suddenly almost more than he can handle.



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Walter, on the other hand, is nonplussed. It almost seems like a trick of the marbled mirror, combined with the late afternoon light trying to make headway through the rice paper window coverings, but as Lyle catches sight of his dog’s reflection, he looks the way you might imagine Confucius to look when he was hatching a particularly pithy quotable. Serene. Indomitable. Cool-headed.


There is a nod these days towards the intellectual potential in four-legged creatures. Harder hearts and heads will call it softening of the brain on the part of the owner, but proponents will whisper under their breath that their dog/cat/ferret gets it! Really gets it. And Lyle, owner of Walter, the part-Jack Russell, part-Dachshund, part-Beagle-maybe, had become a true believer. True believers in anything lean towards overzealousness regarding the tenets of their faith. True-believing dog owners are kind of off the charts. Walter is who he dragged to PetStop to deal with a few behavioral issues (compulsive paw-licking, plant-eating, an obsession with the vacuum cleaner), and that's when the bug bit. Lyle saw in Walter the potential for Great Things. Lynn, the trainer, concurred; two classes and 360 bucks later, here they were, poised on the threshold of personally defined greatness.


The phone rang, and Walter raised his small, grizzled head. Lyle, as if answering a partner’s dance move, let his fingers caress the dog’s ears and neck as he moved toward the telephone. Wrong number. It frequently was, as Lyle’s phone was one digit off from the 24-hour doughnut shop two blocks over.


It wasn’t so long ago that Lyle, washed up at the age of 34, was living alone. Really alone. No family that would have him, and two ex-girlfriends with surly dispositions. If you’re in that boat and looking for companionship, where do you go? Other desperate souls would turn to the Internet, redefining themselves in such a way that might deem them worth a look. Lyle didn’t have the heart, the guile or the dial-up speed. The local pound seemed like a more forgiving place to make a connection.


Walter is who he found. Lonely man meets neurotic dog. Had Walter a say in the matter, he might have asked for a guy with more confidence. Lyle had a steep learning curve when it came to obedience training, but Walter was willing to work with him on that. Really, he couldn’t complain. Most dogs don’t. There would just be this getting him over the hump of Session Six, Advanced Obedience. He was hopeful. Most dogs are.