Back in the days when gas was cheap and people drank tap water without fear, dogs might have grumbled, like Rodney Dangerfield, that they didn't get any respect. They slept in dog beds on the floor, waited for someone to remember to toss them a bone now and then, and had names such as Fido or Pizza. (I once knew a dog named Pizza, in case you doubt me.)
Since then, things have swung wildly in the dogs' direction. Today's tail-waggers are named Zelda, Brian, and Charlene. They have been upgraded from sleeping in doggy beds to having their own doggy stairs to help them in their middle years waddle up into their owners' beds. Some go to therapy to help them with their "issues," which may or may not include being named Zelda or Brian and having to wear miniature Burberry trench coats and Prada sunglasses. Oh, I forgot: It is grossly impolitic to refer to dogs as having owners -- the current term is "human companion." Excuse me.
Dogs don't have "owners" the current term is "human companion." Excuse me.
I should know: I'm the human companion to Ken, a six-year-old beagle/lab mix. His human name is embarrassing, but when we adopted him as a pup he was equipped with both his shots and his all-American guy moniker. I was determined to give him a more species-suitable name, such as Homer, but each of my four children had their own nominations for the nom de pooch, fighting endlessly over the topic. A compromise appeared hopeless, and no kid had saved enough allowance to earn the naming rights to our pet. In exasperation, I let his name do what Ken has never learned to do on command: stay. Meanwhile, Ken had been busy chewing up the couch in blissful ignorance during the entire drama surrounding his name. Anyway, the staff at the pet rescue agency had warned me that changing his name might create "issues," even beyond the issue of having a couch that was now missing its left armrest and middle cushion.
All this comes to mind as the nation's workplaces gear up for the 11th annual Take Your Dog To Work Day (TYDTWD) on June 26. Sponsors hope the event will "raise awareness of the importance of the human-animal bond." This strikes me as a little redundant in a society that has seen such excesses as "bark mitzvahs," "barkeries" featuring gourmet "pet"it- fours and doggy day spas.
I am way ahead of this trend, because I take Ken to work with me every single day, and I can assure you that our human-animal bond is stronger than is probably healthy for a grown woman. Ken has gotten the better end of this deal, too. For example, he usually sleeps on the bed in my home office while I work, but even when he's awake and I read some funny column drafts to him to test audience reaction, he falls asleep again, often during what is intended as a big laugh line. He snores, disrupting my creative thinking process and worse, making me want to tuck myself under the covers, too. And, as the self-designated Chief of Gruen Homeland Security, Ken barks madly at inconvenient times, such as when I'm doing a radio interview or speaking to a client who is calling from a patchy cell phone connection from the Ivory Coast. Finally, (this part is really embarrassing) he also has tried to bite delivery persons of color, but after taking him to doggie sensitivity training he has become more tolerant. (And they say dogs are color-blind!)
All things considered, I am glad not to have to prove my "canine companion" chops by bringing Ken to a real office on TYDTWD, because he would get one or both of us fired immediately. He would be sure to lift his leg on an expensive potted plant, missing the plant but getting the carpet instead; sniff up everybody in the department, lingering a little too long on the boss' pant leg; and nose through unattended briefcases, unashamedly stealing sandwiches from deep inside. If he were bored in a meeting he would snort and snore, and if someone were eating a chocolate muffin Ken would rest his long snout on the guy's lap and stare with his big, Labrador eyes until he got a piece of the muffin. This might be considered "workplace muffin harassment."
I take Ken for professional grooming more often than I take myself.
But let she who is without sin in falling for absurd dog-mania cast the first Milk-Bone. I recently realized that I take Ken for professional grooming more often than I take myself, and that is just wrong, somehow. When I take him for walks, neighbors cross the street, not to say hello to me, but to gush over my shedding, begging, couch-destroying hound. I, the human companion, remain a nameless appendage to the pooch.
I suppose it's no wonder that the Hebrew word for dog is "kalev" -- "like a heart." These darned mutts have a way of snuggling into our hearts, even after they have eaten the furniture and fressed the leftover pizza that was left unattended on the kitchen table. And I think I understand why people have become increasingly dog-crazy today. We live in a society where there seems to be so little loyalty, either from employers to long-time employees, from baseball players to their home teams, heck, even from spouses to their mates. But in this increasingly unpredictable world, dogs are utterly, refreshingly predictable in their loyalty. They are faithful and will love you and forgive you -- even if you make them wear a Burberry rain slicker.
Maybe there's a lesson for us somewhere in all that.