Four-Legged Friend

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I was once a cat person. Cats are lovely, graceful, and independent; they can be affectionate but they can also be demanding or aloof. Like many people I know, cats are provisional friends. Then I was given a cat-sized dog, and I learned that a dog is always your friend. I have never been greeted with such exuberance as I am by this dog—and it happens every time I come home.

Maybe I’ve been gone for just an hour. Chou Chou has already forgotten that when I left he was crushed he couldn’t go out with me.

Maybe I’ve been gone for six hours. Still, he isn’t despondent or distressed or reproachful; he is enraptured. As I step across the threshold, Chou Chou runs over and dances up and down, leaping into the air with a big smile, until I pick him up and hug him. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t enjoy being greeted this way by a person. From a toy poodle, it’s wonderful.

Chou Chou is a family legacy. He was my mother’s last pet; when she died, Chou Chou went to my brother; and when my brother died, the dog came to me. I offered to take him with some trepidation. I knew that having a dog would change my life in certain ways—but I could never have guessed precisely how. I see snack-packs in an entirely new light; I’m indifferent to bones under my coffee table; I have a new tolerance for barking; and more…

WALKS:I used to go for walks a few times a week. When I moved to Whidbey Island, I favored a particular beach where, at low tide, I looked for shells, which, for a while, I was painting. Once Chou Chou arrived, the walks became once or twice daily, and it was soon apparent where he prefers walking: on grass, under shade, in places where he doesn’t have to wear the despised leash. (Would you want to wear a leash?) The ideal place has turned out to be the Langley Cemetery. It would never have been my own choice, but there is plenty of room for Chou Chou to roam free, and I get to contemplate the ephemeral nature of life.

EAGLES: Whidbey has a thriving population of bald-headed eagles, and when I first moved here, I considered any sighting of this regal bird to be an auspicious omen. On my walks with a toy poodle I still look for eagles, but now they mean death from the sky! Chou Chou weighs 8½ pounds, just under the carrying weight for a full-grown eagle.

The threat is real. Circling eagles have flown away once I picked up the dog. Possibly they thought Chou Chou was going to be my lunch. One day I saw an eagle watching us from a nearby branch, and I picked up Chou Chou and looked up at the bird. As he flew off, he gave a screech that registered somewhere between annoyance and anger. A friend described an abandoned aerie he found: it was littered with tiny collars—like little trophies!

When I admired these birds of prey, I did know they hunted small mammals. But sharing my life with a small mammal has made me look at this from a personal perspective—and has given me a new relationship with birds of prey.

OTHER DOGS: I also have a new relationship with other dogs. Now that I’m acquainted with one dog—and appreciate his discerning sniff, his never-ending quest for more food, his splendid loyalty—I have a greater affection for any dog. It’s as if I were seeing dogs through Chou Chou’s eyes. As a cat person, I saw dogs as being of various sizes and weights and breeds. Now every dog is a dog—and might be a four-legged friend.