Pet Smarts

The verdict is in—the dog did it!
By Sandra E. Lamb, October 2009

When Mr. Dad and I, not wanting our kids’ psyches to be forever twisted into the knots of emotional angst that produce those hideous “parents dearests” tomes, decided that, yes, getting a dog could help build their little characters. After responsible-parent research into breed sizes, temperaments and personality profiles and scouring the local animal shelters, we narrowed the list to a number of possibilities and selected a pup.

Son One claims that our German Shorthair Pointer, Gretch(en)—so named because when we took her in the car as a puppy, she … well, it rhythms with fetch—“is the smartest dog in the whole world.”

Gretch’s obedience-school degree did produce a surprisingly high IQ and flawless manners, by pooch standards. There’s only one teeny-tiny problem: Her manners are only in effect when we’re home. Early on, it was evident there was going to be a serious absentia behavior hurdle. Miss G, you see, experiences (A) boredom when there’s a challenge vacuum—that is, whenever she’s left home alone.

Number One Son justifies: She just (B) “gets lonely.” In less than two minutes? That’s exactly how long it takes for G’s boredom and loneliness to kick in. Then the G-Girl succumbs to what I call (C) PMS (Pooch Morose Syndrome). Son Two insists she probably just gets (D) hungry. But she always has two bowls of kibble and one bowl of veterinarian-endorsed bits ready and at her paw tips. Or, says Son Three (and I contend he’s really reaching here), she suffers from (E) “Girl cravings.” This, of course, stops me cold. How could I not sympathize with such gender sensitivity? Recently, Son One raised all of these possibilities after we returned from a trip to the orthodontist.

Consider the scene: I’d prepared a pizza, sliced it and left it cooling on the kitchen counter—pushed all the way back—so we could dash home, eat and motor off to soccer practice. When, upon our return, I noticed that G’s nose wasn’t pressed to the front window, I immediately suspected canine foul play. The pizza, of course, was missing.

“Gretch? Girl?” Son One called. No happy clicking of doggy nails on the hardwood floors. “We’re home, Gretch.” No joyous barking, tail wagging, wild jumping and whining hello. Hmm.

After a brief search of her usual haunts, I apprehended G in the laundry room, where, wedged between the washer and dryer, she sat quivering. Ears flattened, she was wearing a wig (aka, my new string mop). She flashed her best apology grin. “Trouble in Dodge,” I speculated.

In the court of public opinion (i.e., our living room), I laid out my case.

Means: Consider her long-reach capabilities. Once, after finding a mauled sofa cushion, I tailed her through the house. As I watched, she stood at the kitchen counter, cast a wary golden eye over her non-shoulder, then strong-pawed a quarter-pound of plated butter to within tongue reach.

Motive: I submit any willy-nilly combination of A, B, C, D and/or E (previously noted).

Opportunity: Gretch was, after all, home alone for two hours.

Evidence: The trail led to the white brocade living-room sofa where, buried under cushions two and three, I discovered licked-clean pizza crusts. Red circles on the white Oriental rug indicated the per-PET-rator had partied—alone—before burying the remaining evidence. The trail then led to the white wool den sofa—don’t ask why a mother of three boys and one large dog decorates in white-on-white—where the per-PET-rator buried a few more slices with pepperoni and cheese. For later.

My sons countered with a Johnnie Cochran-like defense. They discounted her pepperoni-laden chops, her spicy breath, her saucy red paws, the tracks and the carpet fibers. Prints leading from the scene, they argued, could have been made by anyone. They were a size 12, Brunhilda Moxie, four pads. “Circumstantial,” the three chimed.

Guilty or not, at my insistence, Miss G has been placed under constant surveillance, and sentenced to the family traveling team. She now spends 8 to 5:30 in my home office (where she resides under my desk, making license plates), and sports a smug smile as she happily goes with us to soccer practice, swim meets and Cub Scout meetings. For me, it’s dog days, dog nights, even dog bathroom breaks.

Son One says, “I told you she’s smart!”

Sandra E. Lamb, author of How to Write It and Personal Notes, also writes lifestyle, current affairs and humor pieces for national magazines and newspapers.