I am one of those extreme pet lovers. So certain I offer, when called, unparalleled happiness to all animals—feral, domestic, and unborn—that, like all professionals, I don’t make a big deal of it. I don’t pet people’s dogs, inquire about unfamiliar breeds, or smile at them in the way it was once permitted to smile at small children. In fact, my assurance, indeed arrogance, on the point is manifested by a certain hostility to pet owners.
Is this the way with all caring professions? We recall Dr. Cottard’s esteem for his colleagues.
All are suspect. I yell at owners who take their dogs on trails that disallow them. I mutter to myself about people who don’t walk their dogs. I grumble over people who walk their dogs too much. What if they (the owner) is hit by a car? That animal will live a sad nostalgic life thereafter. Dogs without discipline are a poor reflection on the owner. Far worse though are the owners who, presented with an audience, force their animal to halt and, in sight of bushes, trees, scents, parks, arrest its innocent enthusiasm in order to satisfy the owner’s sadistic compulsion to publicly perform rituals of mastery.
Likewise I don’t love it when pet owners use my yard as a litter box for their pets. It is especially testing when the animal is of a size which qualifies for small children-on-the-horsey gags. And then there is the delicacy of the product itself. This week I attempted the brisk removal of a pile from the yard which, from its charcoal colour, must have been resting overnight. To my surprise it had the quality of a fine creme brulee. Its thin and crisp outer layer when handled split delicately, revealing a still warm, indeed steaming, moist brownie center.
…these blue evening shades, that precious quality which I should recognise again when, all night long after a dinner at which I had partaken of them, they played (lyrical and coarse in their jesting like one of Shakespeare’s fairies) at transforming my chamber pot into a vase of aromatic perfume.
No, it isn’t these culinary miracles that inflame my pet lover’s judgment. It is the more alarming whiff of negligence, of unpreparedness, which their giving-to-me-a-shit symbolizes. What other fundamental accommodations are refused these poor animals?
My disgust is further piqued by the neglect of one of this world’s few true class levelers, that vanity destroying rite of bagging the waste. A furtive glance over a shoulder, as if at a man’s lewd whistle, face opening in a prayer of recognition, then a cutthroat cowboy’s quick draw to a pocketed plastic bag. The dog, regal, uncharacteristically patient, even meditative, waits patiently, casting a dull and superior look at owner (realtor, banker, judge, anti-vaxxer school board troll, all equally), kneeling now with sewn lips, exhaling (only) audibly, almost sensually, until the prize is wrapped in its military matte receptacle.
When it was dead, Francoise collected its streaming blood, which did not, however, drown her rancour, for she gave vent to another burst of rage, and gazing down at the carcass of her enemy, uttered a final “Filthy creature!”
Still, when a neighbour patrols my yard with absentminded deliberation, I try, in order to interrupt and arrest scent pathways, to offer a bemused greeting. “Hello!?” I say, as in, “Can I help you?” This is mostly effective. We are urban enough here that most residents fear an unwanted conversation.
This week I had two such encounters with what I now believe was the same person. The other evening, tidying above the yard, I sent my passive-aggressive hello, to which a middle-aged woman, in my driveway with dog, responded, “Have you talked to Pete and Kathy lately?”
These were the previous owners, who designed and built the house.
“No, I never met them,” the accumulated challenges of home maintenance and dignity giving my voice an edge.
“Oh. We used to come here a lot when they lived here.”
I thought for a moment of our interactions with the previous owners, including a sharply worded and inappropriate letter of disagreement when we changed gardeners. H had been rightly upset by it.
“Yea I-” my loyalty restrained by commonsense and a motto, never apologize, never explain…
“I don’t talk to them.”
This morning the trashman was late. After tidying up in the kitchen I took a handful of waste to the can on the street, to be taken away with it. I turned the blind corner from my steps and stopped in my tracks, as we do now when unexpectedly meeting someone while unprotected.
Caffeinated, I sang, “Good morning.” Just passing the trashcan was a middle-aged woman with a medium sized, stocky and fluffy golden dog of Asian breed. She warmly returned the greeting and walked a few paces ahead before pausing to allow the dog to approach me. Since, no doubt, I had been cordial.
It was I felt sure not the same woman who had asked about the previous owners a few nights before. The dog, now sniffing up the skirt made by my Missoni robe—fetching I thought, in its androgynous clinginess and signature print, though the dog’s rooting wasn’t quite sexy—was the subject of the standard exchange.
“I’m trying to train him.”
“Oh he still has growing to do?”
“I think so, he’s only six months old.”
“Ah, I guess those big paws are the tell, huh?! And he handles the heat alright?”
“Well,” I said, straightening, “take care.”
“Colby” took a natural line from my position a few steps from the street back to the road. In a tone of private commiseration, as at a promised diversion inexplicably forsaken, an ice-cream shoppe or swimming pool on a stifling summer’s day, the woman spoke to the animal.
“They don’t live here anymore.”
We have lived here five years.
Suddenly my father would bring us to a standstill and ask my mother-”Where are we?” Exhausted by the walk but still proud of her husband, she would lovingly confess that she had not the least idea. He would shrug his shoulders and laugh. And then, as though he had produced it with his latchkey from his waistcoat pocket, he would point out to us, where it stood before our eyes, the back-gate of our own garden, which had come, hand-in-hand with the familiar corner of the Rue du Saint-Esprit, to greet us at the end of our wanderings over paths unknown. My mother would murmur admiringly, “You really are wonderful!”