Trixie has more personality than anyone I know. (I use the classification “anyone,” to apply to animals as well as people.)
You see, Trixie is a five-and-a-half year-old, 10 pound bichon. A dog with the ability to make people smile, to empathize with their pain, to exhibit defiant independence in one moment, then cling to you with full attention and complete affection the next.
Like many, if not most of us, I’ve experienced some canine contact over the years. But I may be in the minority of folks whose interaction with these animals has been quite unsatisfactory. Whether it was the first dog when I was six or seven, living with us only a few days (Dad said it was sick and had to go live with the vet, but I’ve come to believe the problem was my folks’ distaste for puppy “business” on the living room carpet), or the Scotty dog, a few years later, whose bite sent me on an unnecessary trip to the emergency room under the dubious cloud of a rabies scare, or the various dogs to which I was subjected during my first marriage, my relationship with that form of four-legged creature has pretty much—you should excuse me—gone to the dogs.
Then, one day well into my adult years, and happily dogless for more than two decades, I was informed by Suzanne (who’s responsible for the joy in my second and final marriage) that “we should get a dog.” This suggestion came from a woman who’d never had a dog; who, like me, would have uttered “dog” if asked to select the first word that comes to mind to associate with the ideas of “slobbery” “stinky” and “stupid.” But if she really thought it was a good idea, I was willing to cooperate. In fact, toward that end, I began to get myself accustomed to that idea by picturing the nature walks I’d take with a mature, mid-sized animal— a well-behaved hound happy to have been rescued from the pound.
But that’s not what Suzanne imagined. Her sudden desire to get a dog had little to do with dogs, per se, and everything to do with adding to our household, a little white furry thing called a Bichon Frise. She’d seen one in front of a grocery store, sitting under a tree, it’s paws crossed like a proper little puppy princess. Suzanne began internet research on her new interest and a few weeks later we picked up 9-week-old Trixie (the Pixie), a rather expensive but adorable “designer” dog from a breeder in Reno.
A handful of white cotton with floppy ears and four little legs, That was Trixie—literally a hand-full as she seemed to enjoy curling up comfortably on my open hand during the first weeks after we brought her home, expanding to three, the number of family members in our household.
She adopted us immediately. Taught us a new morning routine and quickly made us aware of her habits and preferences.
Okay, we now had a dog. Cute. Fun. Sweet. I enjoyed her but It didn’t occur to me that Trixie was challenging my lifelong beliefs about canis-lupus-familiaris.
I started forming a new belief on those days when we left Trixe alone for short periods of time while we picked up some groceries or went out to lunch. That little dog had come to sense when we were preparing for an outing. Did I detect her disappointment when she realized she was about to be left by herself? She looked at me with eyes that actually seemed to express sadness. Was she about to cry?
If I questioned my ability to interpret what Trixie was thinking when we left the house, there was no doubt that I knew how she felt upon our return. She exuded, with every part of her body, so much instant joy that we couldn’t help but feel it too. It was contagious. She still does that. And the joy still is contagious.
Now that Trixie was training me to realize I could understand what was going on with her, she gave me a glimpse of her smile. Really! Not every day, but sometimes in the morning while I prepare her breakfast and watch her watching me, I detect a discernible upward curvature to her little lips. A smile.
Soon I was becoming aware of other occasions when I experienced unfamiliar and satisfying communication with my animal. Like when she cocks her little head a few degrees to the left. If she was a talking dog, that means: “What’s up?” And sometimes when we’re walking she glances back at me, eyes wide, mouth half open with excited pant, letting me know she’s enjoying herself. I usually respond by telling her I’m having fun too, to which she responds with a thumbs up. Actually, she doesn’t have thumbs, so she executes the gesture with her tail.
And before long, I began to notice that a few of the dogs I happened to encounter during activities outside the house, also seemed to convey an emotion when I looked at them, and they at me. Some seemed to greet me with a gentle, almost generous attitude. It wasn’t just Trixie, but other mutts who conveyed the idea they were instantly prepared to be friends. And they responded quickly and happily should I decide to talk to them or even stroke a head a time or two. I see the mid-sized black dog, possibly mixed breed, running to the chain link fence most every time I walk past its yard; its tail wagging, jaws spread and tongue falling forward like a fleshy little welcome mat, seeming ready to embrace the world—or at least his (or her) world. I know it’s notifying me I’m part of that world.
And the little pup that — I mean “who” —spends her days in a wicker basket placed under the counter of the gift shop operated by her human companion, always gives me a bark when I drop in to say hello. Her tongue also is at the ready for a lick or two when I bend down to stroke her head.
With these experiences, I’ve learned—perhaps I should say I’ve finally learned why people love dogs. And maybe it’s an overstatement to claim that Trixie has taught me to love them too. But I certainly love her. And thanks to her I’ve added to my “lessons learned late in life” what there is to appreciate about her fellow canines.