I’m not talking about heroic dogs, or even particularly useful ones. In our daily human lives, opportunities for heroism are few, and it is much the same for dogs.
The dogs I know would leap upon the opportunity for heroism as if it were a feckless squirrel, should the opportunity present itself at a time when they were on duty rather than napping, and in a format they were able to recognize. Opportunities to distinguish oneself in the field of duty and honor are very different from squirrels, however, in the sense that they are often disguised as something else entirely. A squirrel is always a squirrel, while a chance for greatness may be misinterpreted by a dog, or overlooked.
Many dogs, while pretty good, have lacked opportunities for greatness, especially when held up to the old standard of Lassie or Rin Tin Tin. Old Yeller is an example of a humble Adirondacklike dog who achieved greatness, although I am afraid his story ended sadly. I will not watch the end of that movie.
Some people complain about present-day dogs, comparing them unfavorably with the heroic dogs of yore. I am not among them.
“Oh, that Sparky! Heh heh heh! He could fetch you a beer, outta the ice box. Saved my life once, up by the Predicament. Yessir, I was taking 40 winks on the railroad track, blah de blah blah.”
If you listened to these old-timers, you would think olden day dogs were always saving people’s lives and running off burglars and fighting to the death with bears and coy dogs. Except of course when they were relaxing doing circus tricks or serving drinks. I doubt that their dogs were any better than anybody else’s. And you’ve got to remember that today’s dogs are under greater pressure than dogs of earlier generations.
Most of my dog friends over the years have been simply dogs about town, although some were notorious. Notoriety, at least among dogs, does not preclude likeability. In my experience, a notorious dog about town is often considered a pretty good dog, and even a popular one.
The dog about town was more common in the small towns and suburbs of the Fifties and Sixties. He or she would trot along in a purposeful manner, stopping briefly to greet friends or chase a cat.
Then suburban moms went to work outside the home, and the lives of children and dogs changed. Now, more children are adept at martial arts and soccer and piano. Fewer dogs chase cars, bite the postman and raid garbage cans. I’m glad, though, that I enjoyed the era of long, relaxed summer vacations, riding my bike and exploring the woods with my pretty good dog, Duck.
Here in Keene I’ve known some dogs about town. Who can forget Moses, an Airedale type once known as the Mayor of Keene Valley? One early morning I heard so much crashing and clattering I thought there was a bear in my back yard. I looked out the back door and saw a big garbage can rolling around on the ground. In a moment I saw Moses backing out of the can. An affable sort, he greeted me with the friendly yet distant dignity that was his trademark and continued on his appointed rounds.
Bailey was a Keene Valley chocolate lab who was often to be seen behind the Noon Mark Diner or over at the Mobile station begging for doughnuts. J.B., another brown lab, had similar habits. I have witnessed him running out of the grocery store with a loaf of bread in his mouth. He also wandered into people’s houses as well as a bed and breakfast, where he made free with the food on kitchen counters.
What J.B. really loved, though, was fish. He watched me as I planted corn and tomatoes with fish, a trick the Pilgrims picked up from Squanto. Then he ambled off homeward. The next morning I found all of my tomato plants carefully uprooted, and the fishes gone.
Lila, a dog who sometimes shows up outside my back door to ask for handouts, is known in town for grabbing single shoes or toys and running off to hide them under her picnic table. She also takes it upon herself to guard local stores by chasing away would-be customers whom she considers untrustworthy.
Well, they say a dog is a good judge of character.
Have a good week.