The View from Faraway Farm: You either have it, or you don't

I read something the other day about cats versus dogs. The writer attempted to quantify everything with statistics, like the number of words a dog can understand. It was a lot more than I had assumed, but then, I really don't know much about dogs. I'm a cat guy. Cats can probably understand as many or more words than a dog, but unlike dogs, cats just choose not to respond about ninety percent of the time. That's a joke. However, cats aren't given enough credit for their intelligence and ability to be affectionate. You either get them or you don't.

My history with dogs has been mostly unfulfilling, let's put it that way. One of my earliest dog memories happened when I was about six years old, walking home from school on Grafton Street in Chester. There in the middle of the sidewalk was a little dog that looked just like my Grandmothers Boston Terrier. I approached the little guy and put out my hand, talking to him as I approached. Just as I was about to touch the dog, it lunged at me, biting my face. I'd say that the experience influenced my approach to dogs. I really love dogs, but that cute Boston Terrier instilled a healthy dose of caution. When a dog barks at me I instantly go into panic mode to this very day. But I really, really like dogs.

Not too many months after the terrier incident my Mom exchanged the absolutely wild and unmanageable dog that we had for a calm, mature, loving black Cocker Spaniel from the Springfield Humane Society. We named her Cinders and called her Cindy. She was a great dog, but she never really became my dog; she liked my brother best. I was OK with that. I adopted a black cat, and he was all mine right up until the moment he died of distemper. Cindy the dog lived to be nineteen, probably because her owners took the initiative to take her to the vets for her shots, but I digress.

When my children were young we tried, oh, I'd say five times to have a dog. Other than the Norwegian Elkhound mix that was hit and killed by our own family car, (I was not the driver) the others were not working out. Whose fault was that? Probably mine. I just don't understand dogs. I realize that there is a psychology to dog ownership, but whatever it is, it eludes me. Hey, I've watched Cesar Milan work his magic with hopeless dogs, but if you asked me I couldn't tell you what he did. Maybe it's his ability to project calm and control to the dog. I don't seem to be able to project anything more than confusion. What is it that they want from me? Food. Yeah, that's it. I taught one of them to roll over and beg by using food. She was never fully housebroken, but she would roll over in an instant. Dogs like to go for walks. Not a one of them could deal with a leash. They all wanted to strain and try to run away. Not a one was calm. I was never calm around them. What is the saying about dogs only being as good as their owners? It is so very true; so true.

I haven't had a dog since, oh, I don't know, since the turn of the century or thereabouts. All of our children are grown and gone. My fiancee hasn't had a dog since she was a kid. She loves cats. I love cats. When I found my biological father I found that he loves cats. My half brother loves cats. It's all about cats, cats, cats. But I really love dogs, too. There's a lady in Guilford who rescues Labrador Retrievers. I love Labs. I follow her on Facebook. She has a farm and a good number of Labs herself. She is fabulous with them. She takes abandoned, abused, neglected Labs and turns them into happy, healthy, shiny coated perfect examples of the breed. She rescues Labs from high kill shelters all over the place, finds them homes, and truly makes a difference with these beautiful dogs. She posts pleas for a home for these Labs and I look at them longingly, imagining how great it would be to sit by the fire on long winter nights with a loving Labrador Retriever at my feet. A happy, well adjusted, calm Labrador Retriever. I mention it to my fiancee, and she slams my dream into the ground with the brutality of a Vince Wilfork tackle. "You like the idea of a dog, not the reality." She effectively lays out the realities of dog ownership, and the thing of it is, she is 100 percent correct. Frighteningly clear, concise, accurate and unapologetic truth about me and dogs, about us and dogs because our lifestyle is so incompatible with having a dog. So I move on, put those warm thoughts behind me and thank my lucky stars that I won't be ruining a dog's life just because I don't have "it," and probably never will.

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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