My daughter loves training dogs. She devours manuals by the shelf-full, some translated from languages I can’t even pronounce, and then practices her craft on our pet, Peanut. At the end of any given day, I’ll pull into the driveway to find her maneuvering the white fluff-ball among an obstacle course of poles, benches, and cloth tunnels.
This is no small feat since Peanut is a cavachon, which is French for dumb as a rock. Though hypoallergenic, sweet, and gentle, she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Swims in the shallow end of the gene pool. Elevator doesn’t reach the top floor. Thus, teaching the dog to fetch is akin to becoming a Rhodes Scholar. In other words, my daughter’s a rock’n dog trainer.
In support of her passion, we recently visited an obedience competition, minus Peanut. I’m hopeful someday her passions will translate into something that pays bills. If done well enough, maybe our nursing home after we’re worn out from trucking her all over creation.
We walked into a low-ceiling gym, heavy with the scent of black rubber matting. Owners had obediently placed kennels in several rows behind a blue-taped line and stood, watching a few four-legged creatures performing in two adjacent rinks.
The animals were of all breeds, Newfoundlands and labs and shepherds. The master would shout “Heel!”, the universal command for Stick your nose in my pocket and follow as if you have no concept of personal space. My shoulders drooped, realizing the only hope Peanut had of performing such a feat involved a tube of superglue.
One of the most impressive tests comprised ten dogs in a rink. They were told to stay, then watched their masters walk out the door and disappear for five minutes. Each sat eagerly with ears pointed toward the exit, but not a single one moved. Peanut, no doubt, in her sweet social-mindedness would have introduced herself to each one, ensuring none felt an outsider, and within the remaining time the entire pack would have been a gaggle of kids on a playground.
Sometime later as I stood half-dozing before a separate performance, a cow ambled in front of me. I blinked, shaken from my stupor, to realize it was a Great Dane with noble, erect head and shiny black coat. We locked gazes and its eyes, piercing, followed me as it passed. The animal was next for the rink, on deck as I call it because I’m male and even a humor article needs a sports analogy. But in those few seconds, I connected with that animal through its pleading expression.
“Help me!” it said.
The owner, seeing her dog distracted, and frustrated at its lack of attention, pulled on the bull’s collar, pressing to get its game-face on. She walked it in front of me several times to train it to ignore my presence. It still stared back, imploring me to… what?
“Help me!” it pleaded once more.
“What do you want me to do?”
“My life… is hell. You see how she’s treating me? Making me dance in this rink like a bear at a circus. I have no honor.”
“You… You are one of us.”
I quickly scanned those standing around the gym. What did he mean? He… He… Oh, my goodness! Of all the owners, only one had been a guy. The demographic was clear – masters were overwhelmingly older women.
Now I understood what the princely steed was communicating. Could there exist such a conspiracy? These women, frustrated through years, now clamored to control whatever male thing they could? Heel! Sit! Stay! Like drill sergeants with a load of fresh blood, these women demanded swift and exacting obedience.
Oh no! This pitiable Great Dane wasn’t even fully… male.
The arena’s steel walls, so expansive at first, now pressed me like earth upon a casket. I shoved hands into jean pockets and staggered toward the exit through which yet another load of Amazon-sized masters had recently vacated. I struggled to keep the scene in focus as I past the last rink, filled with ten dogs sitting, ears pricked toward my target. I pressed the hard door’s handle, leaned into it, and stammered outside, breathing sweet, cold, life-giving oxygen.
After a minute I was able to straighten my back and gazed at bright sun shining off white snow, thankful for its warmth… Heat, reflected by cold. The pleading gaze of my poor Great Dane friend.
I marched back inside just as his session was ending. He’d apparently done well because his master offered praise while rubbing his shoulder-high belly. The animal seemed to smile, wagging a tree limb-sized tail, giving me no notice as he passed, dreary countenance now warmed by his owner’s approval.
We drove home and pulled into our driveway. Peanut’s white muzzle rested upon our entry’s window sill. Her tail wagged when we turned the knob, flinging dust bunnies across a tile floor. Within seconds my daughter had her on leash outside, commanding her actions.
My wife and I gazed at the scene through a pane of glass. She slipped her hand into my back pocket and said, “That was a good day, showing interest in her hobby.” Yellow afternoon light spilled through the window and warmed my cheek.
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