It’s been four years since I wrote in these pages about Molly, our golden doodle. I shared then, as a novice dog owner, some of my learning experiences. Molly is now 50 human years old and I’m 9 dog years. Soon, we’ll be the same age, so this seems like a good time to offer an update on our life together.
I wrote back then that dogs were stupid, and, wouldn’t you know, I left my laptop open and Molly read the piece. Well, that put her snout in a snit and she still hasn’t forgiven me (plus, I’m pretty sure she corrected a misused subjunctive just to show me up). So, straightaway, a redaction: I was wrong; dogs are not stupid.
I also wrote of Molly’s super hearing, which has become the focus of games wherein I try not to let her hear what I’m doing. Mind you, most of the time, she doesn’t care what I’m doing, but in the areas of food and walkies, she’s, well, all ears. The goal, then, is to see how far I can get in these endeavors before she catches on.
For meals, this involves sneaking into the kitchen and getting noisy kibble into a clattery aluminum bowl without her hearing me. This game is often nullified by the fact that our cat knows how to read a digital clock and will let Molly know when it’s time to eat.
I’m a bit more successful with the walkies game. In wintertime, I sneak into the basement to zip up my snowsuit. Then, I tiptoe upstairs and slip on my shoes or boots. This is doubly challenging, because Molly recognizes the rustling of my snowsuit fabric and the sound of my shoes going on my feet, but if I do succeed, I get the immense satisfaction of standing by the back door and saying in a loud voice, “Well, I sure wish I had someone to go walkies with. . . .”
Which brings me to a discovery: Dogs can recognize lots of words. Molly’s vocabulary includes walkies, dinner, breakfast, alley, street, car, Milhous (our cat), Odin and Koru (her friends), liposuction (don’t ask) and, of course, squirrel. She recognizes the names of household members: Austin, Colin and Dog Mom. (Dog Mom is my lovely and tolerant wife, Renee. In my defense, I am Dog Dad.)
“Soon” is a concept that I don’t think she quite grasps, but she acts as though she does. If Dog Mom and Iwe have to be clever. Currently we say, “Let’s peripatate the canine at a later juncture,” but we’re pretty sure Molly has, Alan Turing-style, broken this code, because when we say this, she gets excited—about the impending walk, of course, but more, I think, about the illegal coinage of a transitive verb from the adjective “peripatetic.” (I found our Oxford English Dictionary, covered with paw prints, open to the P’s last week. I don’t know where that little Dickens gets her interest in etymology.)
Molly goes into high-stress mode at the appearance of suitcases. She doesn’t mind if Dog Dad is hitting the road without her, which happens a lot, but if Dog Mom’s going traveling, Molly had better be included or Dog Dad’s in for an epic mope-fest. This is doubly true if a trip to our cabin is involved, because there is nothing better in the world for Molly than to be at the cabin with Dog Mom. On rare occasions when she has, of necessity, been left behind, our house takes on the vibe of a 19th-century London orphanage.
All in all, we have a remarkably well-behaved dog, but about once a year she’ll grab food off of our kitchen counter, just to remind us what a jerk she can be if she chooses to be. When this happens, the consumption can be epic: two pounds of fresh homemade beef jerky, 19 Christmas cookies or an entire loaf of banana bread.
And she knows she’s not supposed to bark when people come to the door, but she can’t help herself, so she’ll put one of her plush toys in her mouth, simultaneously muffling her bark and reassuring the visitor that she’s not going to snap at them. She’ll bark when the side doorbell rings, but not the front, because she knows that the only people who come to the front door are Jehovah’s Witnesses and, by example, we have taught her that, no matter how irritated we may be by roving evangelizers, we don’t bark at them. (Well, there was that one time . . .)
Molly has lots of life left, but I’m already dreading her passing. She makes me laugh out loud a dozen times a day and her unconditional love for her adoptive family, her eternal optimism and her general faith in humankind set an impossibly high bar. My goal in life is to be half the creature that she is.