IF YOU HAVE anything bad to say about dogs, just don't say it around me, pal, because I have a real short fuse when it comes to anti-dog sentiment.
The first dog I ever fell in love with was Lassie, whose sole mission in life seemingly was to rescue that little jerk Timmy Martin from countless life-threatening predicaments.
Every time you turned around, the kid was getting stuck in quicksand or trapped in a burning building or attacked by grizzly bears. I don't know what he did to deserve this kind of luck -- maybe he kicked a nun or something when he was younger -- but every day was a new crisis.
I don't know where the hell Timmy's mom and dad were while all this was going on, either. You talk about a kid in need of supervision. I'll bet the Martins' neighbors were constantly on the phone with the juvenile authorities. ("You won't believe this one, officer. This time the kid was caught in a cave-in up at the old Baxter mine. And the dog saved him again! No, I don't know where the parents were . . .")
After Lassie, I fell in love with a succession of decidedly unheroic dogs (my own) named Queenie and Holmes and Noel, dogs that wouldn't bark if you were about to be hit by a milk truck, never mind drag you from under a spooked and rearing stallion.
But that was OK. There was never any stated quid pro quo arrangement between me and my dogs. I loved them no matter what they did for me, and by their very presence alone, they did a lot.
You know what I love about dogs? Their boundless affection, for one thing. No matter what kind of a day he's having, a dog is always glad to see you, and (unlike a certain other common household pet we could name) will let you know the depth of his affection, sometimes in curious ways.
I had a dog (Holmes, a 135-pound St. Bernard) who would greet me by barking madly and hurling himself at full speed into the nearest wall.
Then he would stagger about for several seconds, as if he'd just caught an uppercut from George Foreman, before bounding over to be petted. Oh, the dog was dumb as a rock. Either that or suicidal, we could never figure out which.
Lord knows we tried to get him to stop slamming into the walls, too. For months I said to him: "Why can't you just wag your tail and lick people like a normal dog? Why do you have to launch yourself in the air like a freight train derailing?"
But the dog wouldn't listen. Apparently, he had a need to slam into walls, some sort of genetic code that mandated this kind of behavior.
Another thing I love about dogs is that they don't ask for a whole lot. Food, water, a few recreational materials (rubber bones, plastic squeeze toys), that's about it.
If you want to really impress your dog, give him a ball. To a dog, a 59-cent rubber ball is sort of what an Apple computer is to a human.
A ball will mesmerize a dog for hours on end. He'll find dozens of uses for it, too. He'll chase after the ball. He'll chew the ball. He'll bury the ball.
This just occurred to me. People talk about a "dog's life" as if it's so terrible. But I don't see how you can say that.
If a dog isn't eating, he's sleeping. And if he's not eating or sleeping, he's playing. To me, it sounds suspiciously like retirement. I could stand that sort of life for the next 30 or 40 years, providing I didn't have to eat what a dog eats.
(Dog food . . . I don't know. How can they eat that stuff? You open a can of dog food and the smell would knock a buzzard off a power line at 200 yards. Yet a dog will bury his head in his dish as if was leg of lamb garnished with rose petals.)
Occasionally, you have to make it clear to the dog that he (or she) is a dog, as opposed to a person. If you let him, a dog will try to sleep in your bed, ride with you in the front seat of the car, even tag along to a cocktail party.
That's why some dogs are so screwed up -- because their owners have convinced the dogs that they're humans, that they're somehow better than mere dogs.
So pretty soon the dog walks around the house thinking: "Geez, where are Al and Marie? There's not a damn thing to eat, I'm missing "Oprah" 'cause there's no one to turn on the TV, and you can't get any sleep with that phone ringing."
Hoo, boy. When a dog adopts this sort of mind set, his owner has big, big problems. This is when the owner starts getting attitude from a dog, when the dog starts acting like a . . . like a cat or something.
Cats. Please, don't get me started.