The Crazy Dog Lady

My dog is controlling my life and everybody knows it. They all think I’m crazy, but I don’t care.

Here is my logic: I do not have children. If I did, I would be less likely to think there was a person trapped inside my pet and treat her accordingly. If there was a human child in my life, I would be too busy to anthropomorphize my dog.

I am an unmarried, childless adult, and as a woman, I am hard-wired to want to nurture something. What a lucky dog I have, that she is the recipient of every ounce of mothering I possess. This means daily walks, gourmet dog food, doggie day care and a fierce reluctance to leave her alone for more than an hour. This translates as me spending exorbitant amounts of cash on her, staying home nights to be with her, and many dedicated hours of wrestling on the rug.

That’s a lot of effort poured into something barely the size of a human head. Cooper is 8 pounds of spotted pink flesh and chaotic, wiry hair. She suffered from mange as a puppy and never recovered her hair fully, leaving it sparse on her head, and completely naked on her chest. She has the appearance of an expensive jacket that was left in the dryer too long, shrunken and disheveled. Once, I passed a woman at the dog park who said to me, with slight distaste, “What IS that?”

To say that she is energetic is a ridiculous understatement. Imagine a manic, woolly, gremlin hurling itself at you as it frantically tries to stick its tongue up your nose. Imagine a small blur of black and white fuzz as it gleefully chases a ball for the thousandth time. But also imagine an intelligent and perceptive beast, who peers into you with the most guileless brown eyes you have ever seen. That’s Cooper.

When we walk down the street together, people stare at her. She inspires squeals of delight from children, and soft cooing from grown women. I’ve heard teenage miscreants marveling at how fast she runs, and tough looking men in leather jackets talk to her like a baby as they scratch her ears. Nearly everyone smiles when they spot her trotting along by my feet (or yanking me defiantly down the sidewalk). She, in turn, welcomes everyone equally, eagerly, with an unrestrained joy that is hard to resist. I have seen Cooper turn a scowl into a grin on dozens of faces.

If she were a human child, she would be the kind of kid who shaves her head and joins a band, but still wants to please her parents. She would sneak out of her room at night to hang with her friends, only to confess in the morning. I would catch her smoking, but not be able to bring myself to punish her when she starts crying. That’s the kind of kid she would be.

But she’s not a kid, she’s a dog, and aside from myself, she’s the only responsibility I have. That is how I justify treating her like a human being. If, in my life, she is the only creature that ever depends and relies on me, I damn well better do it right. However small and simple, that dog gives my life an added sense of purpose.

When you’re a kid, you hear the tale of the crazy cat lady, a mousy old spinster who prefers the company of animals to human beings. So what if I’ve become the crazy dog lady? So what if my friends roll their eyes when I announce that I cannot go to dinner, because Cooper needs company? At the end of the day, what makes me happy is knowing I did the best I could for my small family of two.

Mushroom at Large

A couple of years ago, I had a particularly bad day. The kind that makes you feel like you have a hive of angry bees in your chest. Like your head is a helium balloon, headed for a ceiling of spikes. That kind of day.

I needed to get out of the house, so I decided to do what I refer to as “driving therapy.” I got in my car, put on some music to match my mood, and started driving. I had not been living in my neighborhood for very long, and it calmed me to explore the unfamiliar streets and houses.

There might have been some primal scream therapy involved, or perhaps some tears were shed as I pounded the steering wheel of my car with an indignant fist. Still, I am a safe driver, and I cruised slowly up and down the streets, wearing my safety belt.

Turning a corner, I saw something that made me stop. It was nothing extraordinary, but it gave me a sudden sense of wellness. There was a house on a corner lot, with many old trees in the yard, putting it in shadow. It looked particularly wooded and rustic, the kind of house a hobbit might live in, or a hippy. And there, sitting on the front edge of the yard, right in the corner, was a giant mushroom.

The mushroom, carved entirely out of wood, stood about 3 feet tall and was polished to a high sheen. It sat sparkling in a little divot in the ground, where it had clearly stood for many years. The wood reminded me of those old driftwood coffee tables that were popular in the 70s. It immediately conjured memories of some elf-populated, fairy-ridden, flower-strewn, secret magic dominion of my childhood dreams. I was charmed.

I pulled over and sat staring at it for a minute or two, admiring the knots and swirls of the dark wood. It made me feel much, much better.

Several months later, I was walking around with some friends on that same street, and we came upon the mushroom again. By now, I had passed it many times during morning walks with my dog, Cooper, and it had become a familiar landmark. This time, the people living there were having a yard sale.

“How much for the mushroom?” I joked. I spoke with a young woman with long, dark hair, wearing hippy-ish clothes. She explained that it was her parents’ house, that her brother had hand-crafted the mushroom, and that many people had offered to buy it throughout the years. Obviously, it was not for sale. We chatted amicably for a few moments before my friends and I walked on.

A couple of weeks ago, my dog and I were on our morning walk. As we drew near the now-familiar house, I saw that something was terribly wrong. The mushroom was gone. In its place stood a sign reading: “Please help find our mushroom. 619-925-2611.”

Somebody stole it. It was bound to happen. You can’t leave a thing of magic out in the open forever. Someone is bound to feel a greedy and corrupt desire to possess it for themselves.

I wanted to go on a man-hunt. I had a hero’s impulse to find the mushroom and return it to its rightful place, not resting until it was recovered and placed gingerly back into the now-empty hollow where it existed for so long. My head swam with images of young hoodlums, sitting around the mushroom as it sat awkwardly in their crack den, surrounded by smoke and empty beer cans. It made me very sad.

I continued walking with Cooper, feeling a little less chipper, wanting to tell the mushroom people how sorry I was for their loss.

I like to think the mushroom is now on a journey. Perhaps it was tired of sitting in one place for so long, and would magically return when it had its fill of sight-seeing. Or maybe the people who stole it would suffer a series of terrible karmic events, forcing them to believe they were being punished for their error in judgment, and would bring it home just to break the curse.

Most likely, it is lost forever. Damnit. I really liked that thing.