Maybe we come to resemble our dogs rather than the other way around. Maybe we pick the puppy, the adolescent rescue, the older foster grieving a previous owner, a dog who speaks to our unspoken and unexpressed, a nearly-domesticated not-quite wild desire, a yearning for an element we suspect but cannot detect. The dog becomes the feral avatar declaiming the landscape.
Labradors are kin to sea lions and seals, land mammals at home in slashing rain, ice, and open water. The dog retrieves sticks and balls and practice dummies. anything that floats. She reads the scent of the field like the Sunday New York Times, taking her time, working the puzzles. She cocks her head, listening to the moles and gophers working the ground beneath us, one paw raised as she considers. She shows me the way of invisible beings I cannot hear or scent, worlds beneath my feet.
Though she’s shy with people and prefers children to adults, she’s a nemesis to the gray
squirrels and the brown that leap from the tree branches. (The varmints seem to have divided territory, with the grays in front of the house, and the browns out back.) Once Mercy chased a gray across the verge and down the sloping hill, coming back to lick her chops with a muzzle covered in blood. At the time she was bemused and thoughtful, testing the new taste with her tongue. Now she is determined to seize the next unfortunate tree rodent lingering too late on the ground.
Dogs are dogs. I know. They understand the world in their canine way. They come to accept and acquiesce to (most of) our strange rules for the sake of human foresight and opposable thumbs. Squirrels are hard to catch, a dog would go hungry many nights, so the ability to wield a can-opener and dish out a stew is a virtue. The bargain was made thousands of years ago, when it was bones thrown out to the hounds from the camp fire, rather than a bowl of kibble set down in the kitchen. Dogs on the floor, not the furniture.
From a calculated distance, I let her charge the turkey hens that wander on the grassy verge and rout them into flight high up onto the fir branches. I want them to remember us, to avoid the back yard particularly, when their eggs have hatched and they march the near-naked turklets through the neighborhood, else an entire brood will be decimated. She charges into the water when we walk by the river, scattering ducks. I keep her close in the spring, when the ducklings hatch and bob along among the reeds.