The first time I ever cheated was with a soulful, blue-eyed girl named Eleanor. And, no, I’m not referring to a same-sex extramarital affair. Eleanor isn’t my type. Her nose is wet, she has four legs, and she’s prone to bad breath.
“She’d better behave and not shed everywhere,” I thought to myself when Sue brought her American bulldog to our weekly True Blood viewing party. For the rest of the season, I couldn’t get enough of Eleanor. I tapped the couch, giving her the OK to hop up and put her head on my lap. She stared longingly at me like I was a squeaky rubber T-bone steak. (Never mind that I’ve spent a small fortune on hair, makeup and clothes hoping to elicit similar reactions from men.)
In the past, dogs have often been the uninvited guests, showing up with friends at picnics or on restaurant patios. Etiquette would seem to dictate some advanced notice from the owner. But then, there’s always a chance that their pets will be better behaved than they are. They won’t spill that pricey bottle of red on your rug. They won’t whine about their marital problems. And they won’t consume all the tastiest appetizers—so long as you keep them out of reach.
For the best-behaved dogs, puppy school taught them their social skills. Humans have no such master class. Not even an Ivy League curriculum can train the humans I know to keep their feet off the furniture or chew with their mouths closed.
In my world, canines have even taken over the holidays. Black Lab rescue siblings Coco and Scruffy were as still as statues standing behind my cousin when the three greeted us last Thanksgiving. I gave her a halfhearted hello, immediately asking if I could hug the dogs. “Look … at … that … face,” I baby-babbled. “Who’s a handsome man?” (Of course, it’s perfectly OK to declare one’s love for dog upon first meeting. With humans, not so much.)
Thanksgiving dinner was delicious and drama-free, much to my displeasure. If no one brings up old grudges or tears a meniscus in the afternoon football game, what’s the point of holidays anyway?
While Coco and I were dozing off in a tryptophan-induced haze, Scruffy dug through the trash to retrieve the turkey carcass, proudly parading it around the kitchen as the adults gave chase and all the children laughed.
I laughed. My love was unconditional. By the time my best friend, Diane, turned onto my street, Rocky and Rosy were in full-throated bark mode. “Whose house are we going to, Aunt Katie’s?”
These days, both are more welcome at my home than certain relatives. Aunt Diane, meanwhile, certainly wasn’t sticking her head out of any car window and drooling at the sight of my front door. Her greeting was quite different, guessing how much weight I’d gained since the last time she’d seen me.
Rocky and Rosy were stationed next to us as we enjoyed dinner. They wanted that last piece of steak—and I inevitably gave it up. That’s all it takes with dogs: consistency and kindness—and a good scratch behind the ears.