As a boy growing up, I knew I would one day own a dog. He (yes, he) would be either a Labrador retriever or whatever kind of dogs they used to have in the old days that looked like they grew up in an alley and had a black patch over one eye. He would be the kind of dog who would enjoy swimming in creeks and sleeping on hard floors. Once in a while, he'd show up at the front door with a small animal, say a rabbit, that he'd caught, and I'd cook it up and we'd eat it. He would be a man's dog. He would be called Rex.
That's why, as an adult, I have been bitterly disappointed to be the owner of a series of small, white West Highland terriers. A Westie is not the kind of dog you'd take with you if you were, say, trying to cross the Great Divide on foot. A Westie is the kind of dog you might see on a tin of shortbread biscuits.
We started with Harry, a dirty, smelly old coot who liked only one thing in life -- my wife. After Harry, we slid even further down the manliness scale by adopting another Westie, this time a female named Sophie. Sophie is everything a real dog shouldn't be. She can't relax unless she's on at least two pillows and gets anxious if she has to go to the bathroom because, believe it or not, she doesn't like to walk on dirt or grass. (She actually won't let us know when she has to go, as it doesn't seem ladylike.) She's the kind of dog that when the dog groomers send her home with pretty bows tied to her ears, she gets sad when the bows fall out.
The situation has gotten worse in the past six months. I have a job that takes me out of town almost constantly, and Sophie has been living in a house with just my wife and two teenage daughters. She now has a whole series of outfits, including (and here I'm gagging just a little bit) baby blue pajamas for bedtime. She spends most of her time in someone's lap, on her back, most often swaddled like a baby in a blanket. I would not be surprised if she now thinks her name is "Cute Baaaaaaaby!" The only reason my wife and daughter haven't started carrying her around in a purse is that they can't find a purse big enough. It's revolting.
On a recent weekend, I was home alone with Sophie and decided it was probably time for her to take a bathroom break. (Not because she barked at the door but because she began clenching her legs together.) As I led her out into the front yard, I looked over and saw the next door neighbor's black Lab, Otis, watching intently. Otis is a real dog. He can be found outside in any kind of weather, and he is always up for a game of fetch. You could throw a rock, and he'd go get it for you. Sophie, in her pink sweater, was cringing at the idea of having to walk out onto the lawn.
Completely aggravated, I picked up a stick. Maybe all Sophie needed was a little bit of manly attention. I waved it at her, trying to get her attention. I threw it across the lawn.
"Fetch!" I yelled. She gave me a blank stare.
"Go get it!" I pleaded. Across the property line, Otis moaned. The only thing holding him back was an electric fence.
Finally, with some coaxing (dragging her by her pink sweater), I got Sophie over to the stick. She looked down at it and sniffed.
"Pick it up!" I said, adding, "Come on, Cute Baaaby!" to provide some encouragement. She slowly bent down, picked up the stick gingerly, held it for a moment in her teeth, then dropped it. She made a gagging face. If a dog could talk, she'd say, "Excuse me? Ewwwww."
"Seriously?" I said. "You want to go back in the housey wousey and way on some soft piwwows?"
While Sophie didn't seem to get the sarcastic tone, she understood exactly what I was saying and scampered toward our front door, glad to be in from the icky outdoors.
I let her in, closed the door behind her, then wandered next door to throw a stick for Otis, who was grunting and jumping, slobber flying in all directions, just the way a dog ought to be.
Sophie, inside on her pillows, probably could have cared less. Her only worry was whether my wife and daughters would be home in time to help her get changed into her pajamas before bed.
Peter McKay, a longtime Ben Avon resident and syndicated columnist, can be reached at his website, www.peter-mckay.com.