The Canela tweets

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

fearless tracker

I use Twitter for a bit more than just Morning Porch updates these days. Three weeks of dog-sitting — and especially dog-walking — yielded a few insights, which I shared on Twitter because they weren’t really long enough for blog posts. Canela is an eight- or nine-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever with a very easy-going disposition, boundless energy and an insatiable curiosity. We walked three to four miles every day. Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve been writing. (The first and last of these also appeared on The Morning Porch.)

Jan. 2
Dozens of juncos flit through the bushes. The old brown retriever that I’m dog-sitting watches from the porch, her nose quivering.

Jan. 12
Trying to teach sarcasm to the dog.

Before I can stop her, the dog wolfs down a frozen coyote turd.

Just back from a three-mile walk full of fascinating scats and urine samples, the dog falls asleep on her Dora the Explorer blanket.

Before I started dog-sitting, I had no idea how much I talk to myself.

The dog’s sleep is punctuated with sighs and episodes of labored breathing. She snores. She smacks her lips.

She rumbles like an appliance with a bad motor.

Her jaws move as if around recalcitrant syllables of human speech. Then she dry-retches and falls silent.

Jan. 13
I just complimented a dog for taking a dump. This pet thing is insidious.

Jan. 14
The dog appears to have two modes: full-on excitement and sleep. I of course am an Eeyore and an insomniac. What a disappointment I must be.

On a walk in the thawing woods, the dog smells everything. All I smell is dog.

Going out to pee in the moonlight, the dog stands gazing into the shadows.

Jan. 15
Having just circled the field, more than anything the dog want to circle the field.

You can’t circle the same field twice, as Heraclitus might’ve said.

Like a suburban kid getting a “tribal” tattoo, the dog wants desperately to roll in coyote scent.

Straining against the leash that won’t let her catch up to a porcupine, the dog whines and whimpers like a creature in pain.

Jan. 16
Ten minutes after telling our neighbor that the dog never barks, I hear her bark, left alone in the house.

So the dog doesn’t bark at people, other dogs, deer, ruffed grouse, rabbits or porcupines. She barks at the absence of all those things.

Jan. 18
Last night, I gave the dog back to her family. In the morning, two inches of wind-blown snow, and the yard unmarred by a single track.

Retriever

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

canela shows us her dark side
Photo of Canela by Rachel Rawlins

A dog’s very presence constitutes a reproach.

Why are you just sitting there, when the whole rest of the world is right outside?

Another cup of coffee, really?

Why can’t you anticipate my needs better? Or does it amuse you to wait until I am literally dancing with discomfort to take me out for a goddamn piss?

Why aren’t you rubbing my belly right now?

When I was a kid, dogs were still largely kept in dog houses. Even Snoopy, the most anthropomorphic dog before the debut of Family Guy, lived in a dog house. They got scratched behind the ears now and then if they were lucky. “You want to go for a walk? Knock yourself out.” Now they are members of the family, like five-year-old children who never grow up, until one day they die and leave a gaping hole in your life. It seems down-right anachronistic that their day-to-day behavior is still driven by centuries of breeding for utilitarian tasks: to herd, to guard, to catch rats, to retrieve the still-warm bodies of dead ducks from shallow water.

Canela, the dog I’m currently sitting for my brother’s family, struggles with the last of these inborn inclinations. I watch her sniffing and straining against the leash on her twice-daily walks, whining out of her deep need to locate and retrieve, to mouth, to bring back. Because the rest of her pack disappeared while she was out on a walk, she looks for them up at the other house as often as I’ll let her, tugging me up the hill, and appears to believe they might be hiding anywhere on the mountain. We make great circles around the ground zero of their disappearance. In search of clues, she wants to follow every fluttering wing.