“What about dogs?” people ask me, and a good question it is. I’m glad to say that my stray dog Cleo has adjusted to life with a human and a bouncy dog nearly as big as she is. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
Cleo is a large, placid and stubborn Anatolian shepherd and Labrador mix someone rescued from the streets and delivered to the Dumb Friends League in Castle Rock, south of Denver. She must have had a hard life on the streets, cause she’s got a nasty scar by her left eye and she’s only a year old.
A lady adopted her from the shelter and returned her the next day or the day after. Why, I could not tell you, because Cleo is an excellent dog in every way, though she was traumatized when I met her, a day or two after the lady threw her out of the house.
I know Cleo had suffered because every other day in the first three weeks as she dozed by Titus, she awoke with a terrified bark. And there was no one else around but me and Titus.
But there’s practically nothing that can’t be cured between mammals with a little loving-up in the nick of time.
And since I ain’t got nowhere to go, Cleo stopped having those nightmares after a month.
Before I sivilized her (Mark Twain accepts this spelling) Cleo was a wanderer. She didn’t know how to live with a human. If she got out the door — and she was always getting out the door — she’d commence to wandering.
She didn’t run away or try to elude me as I trotted after her. She just wandered.
It’s clear that that’s what she thought she should do — wander and look for stuff.
The first time I took her to the wonderful dog park south of Denver — 100 acres off leash, with a stream running through it — Cleo wandered after anyone: dog, human, leaf: It was all one to Cleo.
“Cleo!” I called, but she had no idea what that meant. She didn’t know her name yet.
I tracked her down and hooked her up to the leash and walked with her for 10 minutes. Then I unhooked her she and followed me around like the good dog she is.
After 10 minutes of training.
Cleo is big: 90 pounds. Her buddy Titus, a husky-greyhound, weighs in at 75.
Now, Titus — also a stray I adopted through the Dumb Friends League — will play with any animal, or thing, at any time. He bounds about like a deer, which causes no small hilarity in humans and dogs — big arcing leaps, for no apparent reason but that he’s happy to be a dog and wants to play.
It seems to disarm the dogs, as nearly all of them drop their defenses and play the Great Dog Games: Chase and Be Chased.
Then after you’ve become friends: Wrestle.
Cleo didn’t get it at first.
After she learned to stick by me, she just sorta watched the next time or two. But as we hit the dog park day after day, Cleo got it.
Now, three months later, after we hike the quarter mile to the gate and I open it and unleash them and let them in, Cleo bounds happily by Titus, flank to flank, running and bounding just for the hell of it, chasing other dogs. The most beautiful thing.
I know, I know. Why have I spent 800 words on dogs when there are so many important serious and horrible things happening all around the world today, not just to dogs, but to people?
That’s exactly why I’m doing it.
Since Cleo learned how to live with others — to become a happy dog — she no longer has nightmares. At any rate, she doesn’t wake up snarling.
In the dog park, after opening sprints and two miles of occasional exuberance, she walks placidly beside me.
Now, here’s the thing: Practically everyone — human, dog, planet — loves Titus, because how could you not?
But every once in a while, a dog will play too rough: really bite Titus; go for his ears; keep snarling and chasing even though Titus has dropped his tail.
Titus doesn’t want to be an alpha dog, though he could be — but he don’t wanna.
So the bigger dogs bite him.
When that happens, Cleo takes off like an enormous coffee-and-cream-colored bullet with fur on. She steps between Titus and the aggressor and stares down the Bad Dog.
No fight. Maybe a little growl. She just stares that Bad Dog down.
Man, dogs learn fast. Way faster than human beings, seems to me.