My wife, Maggie — make that dear wife, Maggie — and I have a low-grade running argument regarding our dog, Ellie … our dear dog Ellie.
Maggie thinks Ellie, a golden retriever, ought to be more like us, more, well, human. As I think about it, Maggie wants Ellie to be more like her. That is to say, tidier, more organized, able to vacuum up her own dog hair. And OK, less of a slob.
Ellie is as close to perfect as any dog we’ve ever had. We took her to dog school when she was less than a year old, but we didn’t do all the homework and were as likely to give her treats for her forlorn looks as for sitting or staying. She does sit and stay sometimes, but those feats don’t compare with her forlorn looks.
As a result, she kinda obeys most of the time. I usually describe her as a good-natured dog that hasn’t learned manners. And although purists might balk, I can’t imagine her any other way. She’ll be 12 next month and she’s a sweetheart.
Not that she doesn’t have a couple of bad habits; her worst is her drooling. She drools more than either of the St. Bernards we had.
Because we’re not above eating in front of her — it’s either that or hide from her or throw her outside while we eat — we’ve adapted by putting towels on the floor and ordering her to sit on them. She does this instantly. She, too, adapts.
I’m more inclined to let Ellie be a dog, to do what dogs do. If that means letting her roll around in something unidentifiable in the back yard, well, so be it. We give her baths. If she comes in from the back yard with twigs and leaves stuck in her hair, she more than makes up for that by cleaning up the crumbs from pizza or other snacks that I might eat while sitting in front of the TV. She’s useful that way.
When we take walks, typically in the neighborhood, we mosey. Well, Ellie moseys. And if it’s not 10 degrees and windy, I’m fine with that. Maggie sometimes chides me for walking too fast and not giving Ellie a chance to take care of business, but that’s mostly because Maggie thinks she knows best. Sometimes she does.
What Ellie wants out of walks depends in part on the season. She spends the month after the Fourth of July scrounging for remnants of fireworks.
When she lags behind us, it’s usually because she’s found something tasty. At times I’ve had to reach way down her throat to grab a wad of soggy cardboard that might have drawn “oohs” and “aahs” when it was someone’s evening entertainment. Kind of makes me feel like the retriever.
Later in the summer comes cicada season, which she especially enjoys early in the morning. Lots of cicadas that spend the night singing in trees are in the street, dead or dying. Ellie doesn’t discriminate. The dead ones are easier, but the live ones are more sporting, If they so much as flutter, even if they’re 20 feet away, she pounces on them, sometimes getting one last scream from them as she devours them. A little “Wild Kingdom” right here in the Little Apple.
Ellie also is a big fan of tar, which is always in season. These days road crews are stirring and shoveling ground tar into potholes. She’ll toy with that, but she prefers the tar road crews pour to seal small street cracks to keep them from becoming big cracks.
Because of weather and traffic, that tar invariably comes loose. When it does, Ellie picks it up, sometimes in little bites, other times in strips the size of a candy bar. Unlike with spent fireworks and cicadas, however, Ellie rarely eats the tar. She’ll wait until we’re not looking and then pick up a piece a couple inches long and just chew it as we walk. When I realize it and tell her to drop it, she usually does; she knows she’ll get a treat for her good behavior and knows there will be another piece of tar soon enough.
To her credit, on those walks when she chews a strip of tar without getting caught, she’s considerate enough not to bring it inside. We don’t know this until we go back out the front door, maybe the next morning, and see it on the porch where she left it.
Ellie might not have aced dog school, but she’s got us figured out.
Braun retired in 2017 as the Mercury’s editorial page editor.