Daniel Menaker

In the Dog Run

Monday, February 14, 2011

Conversation among dog owners who don’t really know each other has its pleasures and its problems. Here is a kind of dog-run-conversation template:

Airedale owner:  Hello.
Tibetan Terrier owner (me): Hi.
A: What’s your dog’s name again?
T: Maxwell.
A: And he’s a Wheaten Terrier? [Only she actually says just “Wheaten”; That’s dog-run shorthand.]
T. No–a Tibetan.
A: Oh, that’s right. He is so handsome!
T: Thanks. Isn’t it weird that we say thank you when our dogs are complimented?
A: What?
T: Oh, nothing. So how old is Tara again?
A: It’s Tess. She’s a year.
T: Still a pup.
A: Yes–and Moxie is how old?
T:  It’s Maxie–he’s about eleven months.
A: Maxie–of course.
T: So they’re both still pups!
A: Yes–and don’t they play well together!
T: Yes–there’s going to be a good nap for both of us this afternoon–I mean Maxwell and me. Not you. I mean, well, you could have a nap too, of course.
A: That’s the whole idea!
T: Yes. So Tess comes from a breeder.
A: Yes–on Long Island. And Maxwell?
T: A breeder in Virginia. Can you believe it?
A: You didn’t use Barbara? Everyone gets their Tibetans from Barbara.
T: No–we were told that Barbara interferes a lot even after you have the dog.
A: And you’re …?
T: I’m … what?
A: I mean–your name. I’ve forgotten.
T: Dan. And yours is …
A: Maria.
T: Of course. I knew that.
A: I know your name too–I just forgot.
T: Me too. I mean, I forgot your name too.
A: I know. Well, look at them–don’t they run beautifully?
T: Yes indeed.
A: Well they should–they have four legs!
T: Good point.
[Silence. Dogs run around, doing amazing changes of direction.}
T: Well, they are just amazing.
A: Yes.
[Silence]
T: Well, I think spring is on the way.
A: And the slush.
T: Yes, and the slush, too.
[Silence]
[Silence]
A: Your dog is very fast.
T: Yes, he has long back legs for a Tibetan.
A: I thought he looked big for a Tibetan.
T: But … um, Tess! is a normal Airedale, I think.
A: Yes–just about average.
T: Right, right.
[Silence]
[Silence]
[Silence]
A: I think I’ll just go over to the bench and sit for a while.
T: Good idea. I need to keep standing–been sitting all day.
A: OK–well, see you.
T: Yes, good to see you.

In a highly distilled way, these conversations remind me of conversations with other parents when our kids were little and we were dropping them off or picking them up at school. There’s a finite amount in common that can be discussed without getting more deeply into a relationship, and so people try to be polite but also circumscribe the scope of their remarks. It’s a tough balance sometimes.

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