Family Guy: It's taken a year but our dog has finally trained us to chill
NOW and then, I'll be stopped in the street by a well-meaning acquaintance who'll quickly cut to the chase, cocking an eyebrow, pulling one side of their lip into a mischievous half smile and jabbing the air like they're pressing the button on one of those amusement arcade fortune teller machines.
"How's that dog of yours?" they'll say.
And I know exactly what they mean, of course.
"It's. . . she's fine," I'll say, though, in fact, we have two dogs - one, a model of canine propriety, the other, well, whatever the opposite of propriety is. Impropriety, I suppose, and everything the word implies.
One dog is now aged 12 and although, admittedly, she has ruined more than one horrified family's picnic in her time, festooned with ribbons of mucous and reeking of some dead thing she rolled in, as I recall, she has actually come to seem quite stately in her elder years, the occasional bout of gas notwithstanding.
Our newer, younger dog almost broke our will as, for the first single year of its life, it chewed up or defecated upon - sometimes both and, once, simultaneously - many of our most treasured possessions.
That's the dog they want to hear about, and those are the sorts of details they wish to coax from me.
"Um, improving," is what I'll generally add to the rather disappointing 'fine', a postfix which invariably meets with somewhat more approval.
"Man, oh man," they might reply, shaking their head and puffing their cheeks. "Anything's probably an improvement, eh?" they'll chuckle, adding "wow" for emphasis, just in case I had somehow forgotten how crazy my own dog is.
I might even chuckle along in harmony, except that it's still too soon. I loved that guitar, my hat, that phone. . . oh God, the phone. I once even owned a complete, uninterrupted collection of Mojo magazines, until the dog. . . happened.
"Yes," is what I'll say instead, or: "Indeed."
Truth be told, I'm not so sure that time, or our attempts at training, have resulted in an awful lot of 'improvement', so much as we're just becoming a bit more accustomed to having a poorly behaved dog.
We've taken to turning up the car radio to drown out the paint-peeling yelps of excitement from the back. We sigh stoically at the remnants of the ninth ruined plastic garden hose nozzle or the very last remaining unmolested cooking implement. And when she launches herself off across the park at the word 'sit', we mumble "she was supposed to do that", because honestly, at the end of the day, dogs will be dogs and we'd rather have a slobbery mental case covered from nose to paw in mud and feathers than a dog that cowers on command. At least, that's what we tell ourselves.
"Well, the odd cower now and then, just for effect, wouldn't go amiss," says my wife on one of our walks.
"Yes," I say. "It would be nice if she'd just pretend that we're in charge, just once."
Our other dog, who tires much sooner these days, nuzzles her wet nose into my hand as if to remind us that she's the good one.
The upside of owning at least one dog with limitless energy and absolutely no manners, is that we're forced to take long walks around the farthest and least populated periphery of the park every day.
The only other people we generally meet are dog owners, often with dogs that have, perhaps, like ours, a few challenging behavioural traits and over time we have come to know and quite love a hyperactive pointer named Alexei, a bonkers labradoodle that's disconcertingly named Dave, and a small, fat and completely blind lab named Angel that barrels around in all directions at once at terrifying speed.
People who we see out walking without any dog whatsoever, we view with a deep and entirely unreasonable suspicion, except when they recoil, or worse still, have a child that starts to shriek and do the wee-wee dance at the first sight of a dog, then we heap disdain on top of that suspicion.
When we get home, the second eldest is in the kitchen. "Have you seen this?" he chortles as the crazy dog bounds in. "If you jump up and down, she goes insane and tries to bite the ends of your trousers."
"Genius," sighs my wife.
"Sure to break the ice at children's parties," I mutter.
And that is what is so hard to explain when someone asks about 'that dog'. She isn't fine, or improving much, for that matter. She's completely loo-la. But in just a year, she's succeeded in training her family to chill out, and, well, to love 'crazy'.
Just the next day, we put up a notice down the town. It reads 'Dog Walkers Available'.
In for a penny, in for a pound.