I am writing this in the living room, sitting in an overstuffed chair, my feet on an ottoman and warmed by the crackling flame in the fireplace. It’s a cozy, peaceful scene except for the little dog barking maniacally at the marble to the left of the fire.
I write a few words, and then stop to watch. Smoothie, our Sheltie puppy, runs into the room and catches his reflection in the polished marble of the fireplace. He stops, stares at the dog, decides the dog is a menace and begins to sneak up on it. Moving with the slow stealth of a tai chi instructor, Smoothie moves in for the kill.
Of course, the dog in the marble moves forward, too, and feeling threatened, Smoothie pounces, lunging at the marble with his front paws. He hits the wall and falls backward.
Stunned, he gets back up and shakes his head. Proud of having banished the bad dog in the marble, he looks at me and I say, “Get him, Smoothie.”
Then he runs into the kitchen and discovers the dog has moved to the oven. Smoothie attacks the oven door, falls back, gets up and then runs back into the living room to fight the dog in the marble.
He does this pretty much every waking moment that he’s inside. When he’s out in the backyard, he chases squirrels. Smoothie is not much bigger than a squirrel, and he’s as furry, so we think he might think that either a) he’s also a squirrel or, b) that the squirrels are Sheltie dogs, or c) that the thing in the marble is a squirrel. Shelties are herding dogs, so it’s in his nature to chase.
You would think that Smoothie would eventually realize there’s no animal there, but it’s been almost a year now and he’s not giving up.
Our two other dogs are smarter. Howard saw his reflection in the kitchen door exactly one time, rubbed snouts with it, and figured it out. Lucy is the aloof kind of smart, a dog so confident in her physical beauty that she feels entitled to lounge all day, rolling her eyes at the oafish mortals around her.
And still, sometimes I look at the two smart dogs and remind myself just how little they know. These pets – family members who are present for every meal, every nap, every rented movie, every visit from a friend – are unaware of the most basic facts of the world. They don’t know who the president is, what the Civil War was about, that Beyoncé really did lip sync, who Justin Bieber is, why people like to drink beer (although they do understand pizza). Dogs probably have intuitive abilities that humans lack, but they are pretty much clueless about the human world outside the door.
Smoothie couldn’t care less, of course. He’s too busy herding that Sheltie in the fireplace. As I write this, he is yipping at the marble, growling as he sneaks up on that dog. He never loses hope that this will be the day he finally catches the dog, chases him away, reigns as master of that corner of his world, making the living room safe for all of us.
Get him, Smoothie.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.