My dogs always know when I've been out fooling around. If I return from trips, neighborly visits, or even errands bearing the faintest scent of another canine on my hands, a stray hair or two on my sleeve, or (horror of horrors) an actual paw print on a pant leg, they realize I've lost my head again and welcomed – or actually courted – the attentions of some other dog. After assessing the evidence of such culpability, they sit back on their haunches, casting doleful "how could you?" visages of wounded pride and betrayed trust.
I tell them it's no use getting their noses out of joint that way. I am not going to walk that line. They may have supremacy in my heart, but they're not the only dogs in the world, and they might as well get used to my transgressions.
And I routinely do fall for dogs at first sight.
The mere sight of a wagging tail amid the clutter of a garage sale is enough to make me pull over and browse the wares, all the while fingering and fondling the upthrust muzzle of some resident pooch that recognizes, from yards away, a soft touch coming. I buy time by selecting a token article of clothing or household item; by the time I leave, scratching a wriggling body or stroking a silken head one last time, I know I'm in for a reprimand back at the farm. "So, you've been at it again," they seem to say, as they sulk after a suspicious, confirming sniff.
I think it's harder on them when they recognize the aura of a particular rival. On occasional work-related trips to Washington, D.C., I often spend a weekend with friends and fellow dog owners in their historic home near Capitol Hill.
I've found few nicer ways to wind down from a work-intensive week than by joining these friends on walks with their dogs, Nina and Gus, around the lawns of the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the Library of Congress. The dogs may not appreciate the political and cultural significance of their romping grounds, but romp they do.
I take a shower and change clothes before the trip home, but my own dogs seem to know I've been with someone else: "Aha, that city pair." Is it my sanguine, canine-sated demeanor? They forgive me readily enough, but only because an epochal separation (one whole week!) has ended.
They are not so understanding – and know exactly whom I've been seeing – when I arrive home from Dennis and Joan's, just down the road, where I occasionally stop to visit a new filly.
The resident Jack Russell terriers leap so frantically about me as I walk to the stables that one sniff of my ankles, redolent of those particular rivals, turns my pair on their heels when I arrive home again. My black Lab seems particularly dismissive, having occasionally looked down upon the little animals' antics from her car seat. If her stance were translated to words, it would be something like, "Well if you want to spend your time with those little nitwits, far be it from me to protest."
As it happened, she and Oscar bore horrified witness to my fully engaged romp with Ollie, a truly luscious golden retriever, the other day.
Both dogs had accompanied me on a trip to town to see a friend, who turned out not to be home. What happened after I knocked on Doug's door took place so quickly and spontaneously that I put my judgmental and jealous witnesses completely out of mind, if not sight.
At my rap, Ollie bounded out through a pet portal into the fenced yard, greeting me almost formally by gazing upward solemnly and taking my hand in cloud-gentle jaws. To say I experienced meltdown is to underestimate my susceptibility to such overtures. I was down on my knees before I knew it.
Sensing his advantage, Ollie darted back inside, emerging moments later with a favored knotted rag that begged for a tug of war. We tugged and we warred, spinning about the little yard until the hot sizzle of double condemning gazes from my car hit home.
It has taken awhile, but both of my dogs have let this, too, pass. Perhaps they've come to accept that I must stray now and then, and it's all right so long as they are assured of their places in my heart and on either side of my small desk here.
In any case, neither seems to know or care that I am writing about other dogs at the moment. I welcome every bit of leeway.