Sunday, July 24, 2011

The World's Greatest Dog

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of biking 21.5 miles with my charming middle daughter. We went through Keene and came back via Clear Creek, 169, Woods Ln, and Delaney Ferry. We also visited Blockbuster and the Beaumont library in an unsuccessful quest for the movie "Green Card".

This morning, I was going to go to the falls at Waizenberger Mill, but it was already getting nasty hot when I left at 9:00, and after 5 miles my bursitis started talking to me (it shut up after only a few minutes), so I decided to make it short. So I went Van Meter to Elkchester, back in Old Frankfort Pike and Alexandria. 16.1 miles, 1h18m, top speed 35.1 mph.

When we visited our graphic designer oldest daughter in Brooklyn a few weekends ago (did both the Met and the Brooklyn museum), I read my first novel on the iPad: "Fuzzy Nation", by John Scalzi. A reworking of a 40 YO short story, very old school, very readable. I think I will increasingly buy more books on the iPad in Kindle format ($11.99 for Kindle vs $15.99 for Apple eBook). I bought the new Greg Egan novel for $3.99!

I just finished "Songs of the Dying Earth", edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin. Stories written in tribute to Jack Vance's "Dying Earth" stories, borrowing the settings, characters and tone. A fun read (770 pages), the authors contributing were definitely an all-star group. All of them wrote afterwords telling how they had discovered Jack Vance and how much the stories meant to them.

It reminded me that, in my sophomore or junior year of college, I wrote an English paper on one of the stories from the original Dying Earth collection. The story was "Chun the Unavoidable". Two of the stories in the new collection feature its characters. My English professor completely hated it, excoriated pretty much everything I said about the story, and gave me a lousy grade. I guess it's a matter of taste thing.

The World's Greatest Dog

Our dog Dexter, a 23 pound long-haired Jack Russell terrier, was 16 years old last month. We've had Dexter since he was a puppy.

Before Dexter we had a small black terrier mix named Shadow.  He was an outdoor dog with a doghouse.  He got one of the support ropes for a volleyball net that was set up in the back yard wrapped around his neck and strangled.

Dexter was always laid back.  Back when we were always at soccer games, he submitted to a 3 pound and a 4 pound yorkie.  So he was not a "good" Jack Russell -- they are supposed to be very aggressive and hyper. Dexter has always been great around people, particularly children.  He doesn't care one way or the other about other dogs (neutered at an early age).  He hates squirrels, is not very fond of birds either, and one evening a few years ago, when he was tethered in the back yard, he was kicking the shit out of a small possum -- circling and darting in for the neck grab and shake.  He grew into a fine looking dog -- when walking him, you invariably get "what a pretty dog" comments.  The dog on the box of Small Milkbones looks like him.

I was never much of a dog person, but I really came to like Dexter because, in addition to his laid back personality, he has proven to be very smart. Here is the story I tell about how I became impressed with his intelligence.

At one point, the females of the family decided Dexter was lonely.  So they bought another Jack, a small short-haired female that we named Ripley.  Ripley made Dexter's life miserable.  She would attack and bite him.  But here's where Dexter outsmarted her.  He was playing with a toy, and, as usual, Ripley came and took it away from him.  So he went and got another toy, one that he didn't like, and started playing with is in a very exaggerated manner, throwing it up in the air and shaking it more vigorously than normal.  So Ripley drops the first toy and comes and takes the second one away.  Dexter then immediately goes and gets the first  toy, carries it to where Ripley can't see him, and resumes playing with it.

So Dexter perceived a desired future outcome; made a plan to achieve it; and executed his plan.  In cognitive science, this is called intentionality.  It shows high-order intelligence. (BTW, my wife found Ripley a new home with an older woman down in Monticello, KY.)

Dexter still jumps and gets air when he thinks he's going out or for a walk, or getting a treat.  "Stop it, old man, you'll hurt yourself".  He still runs in the back yard.  It's nice, when I'm grilling out, I can leave him loose now.  He's mostly deaf, but he can hear my loudest whistle and will come back in the yard if he strays.  I keep  2-3 milkbones in my pocket, he gets one every time he comes in when I beckon him to.

He's mostly deaf, losing his sight, and maybe his smell.  He sometimes can't find treats on the floor.  Coming up steps now sometimes he slips and bangs his chest;  he gets confused walking around obstacles and bangs his head.  And he sleeps most of the day.

I haven't been walking him near as much this summer, due more to my bursitis than the heat.  In the spring we were still taking 1h15m to 1h30m walks.  But it is nice that I'm working out of the house.  I leave him in the back in the mornings.  When I get back from lunch I let him outside, then let him hang out with me the rest of the day.  At 4:00 we go out and get the mail. He sleeps at various places in the office or family room.

He was at the vet last summer, the vet says it's unusual to see a Jack that old.  Their normal, aggressive behavior includes things such as picking fights with bigger dogs and chasing cars which tend to be longevity-limiting.  So Dexter's laid-back attitude has stood him well.  The Sambi's over by the pool had a Jack about Dexter's size that lived to be 17-1/2.

So anyway, we've got him a while longer, and again, I'm glad that I've got this period to spoil him a little in his waning years.  Like I told someone, when I'm his age, I would like it if I got a treat every time I went to the bathroom.  And, he has really improved my apprecation of "man's best friend".  Dogs plan, execute, feel sorrow, guilt, and other emotions we have taught them.  I would estimate a smart dog like Dexter has around 0.6 of a human soul.

I'll miss him when he's gone.

1 comment:

A K Heinz said...

Dexter is well-honored by what you have written. Love you.