I grab a stick of string cheese from the refrigerator as a quick snack and immediately seated before me are three bulldogges. Staring me down, they indicate clearly that they expect their fair share. This translates into me having one bite and the rest of the bites being doled out among my pleading audience. String cheese is a house favorite around here. As I toss plugs of cheese into each of their drooling mouths, I’m reminded of Luke’s love of string cheese. String cheese was one of Luke’s many loves, second only to bananas. After he passed away I was unable to buy either of those items for quite a while. In fact, I still can’t bring myself to purchase bananas.
I grab another stick of cheese from the fridge in hopes of enjoying more than one bite as my mind drifts back to the days when Luke and I participated in obedience classes each week. Opinionated, strong-willed and far from being interested in “obedience”, Luke embraced training classes only for the special attention and string cheese. If the truth be known, we both enjoyed obedience classes simply as an excuse to have a night out with just the two of us. We’d attend class then stop for a hotdog and ice cream next door at a local dairy bar. The girls working the window would give Luke a free hotdog and gush over him as he ordered a small vanilla cone. Good times. We both looked forward with anticipation each week to our doggy date night.
For anyone who thinks that bulldogges are simple-minded and easily manipulated with treats and pats on the head, I have to point out that their thinking is the only thing simple in that equation. Oh, it’s true that bullies may not always adhere to rules, come when called or obey basic commands. Don’t be mistaken, though. They absolutely know what the rules are and they understand with clarity what’s being asked of them. Life with a bulldogge can be frustrating. Especially for those who are under the impression that they’re in control and all four-legged members of the family must bow to their lordship. I can assure you that if you share your life with a bulldogge that type of thinking is a delusion, a beautiful lie that you’ve sold yourself. You may simply own other dogs, but you enter into complex relationships with bulldogges.
As I observed the other dog/handler teams in our weekly class I was struck by the fact that most of the other dogs eagerly obeyed the commands for a tasty morsel. Eyes fixed on the handler, these dogs of various breeds from small to medium size delighted in pleasing their owners. They’d do anything for a tidbit of cheese. I looked at Luke and smiled. I had a pressing impression that we might impede the natural flow of things at this canine academy. But we jumped right in and Luke learned quickly. I never doubted his ability to comprehend new material. It was his willingness to comply that gave me pause. However, Luke obeyed the majority of the commands. On occasion he would balk and we’d just move onto something that he was more interested in doing. Give and take. Like any meaningful, committed relationship, resilience is key.
One evening after class I stayed late to chat with the instructor. As we sat across from each other shooting the breeze, the instructor’s chocolate Labrador walked over and sat down facing me. Gemma was a phenomenal representation of her breed. Not only was she beautiful, she was also impeccably trained and extremely obedient. Definitely a star pupil. Luke was lying at my feet when he saw Gemma approach me. He sat straight up and snapped to attention taking a seat right next to Gemma, facing me. I had string cheese in my treat pouch, so I pulled out a stick and broke off two equal pieces. I gave Luke his piece first. He happily took it from me and began to savor it. Then I reached out and handed Gemma her bite to which she gladly accepted as Luke looked on. Suddenly, Luke ceased chewing his coveted treat. His posture stiffened. If looks could kill I would have been annihilated on the spot. Seething with contempt, Luke threw his head back and forcefully spit his delectable treat at my feet. He then turned his back to me, let out a heavy sigh and sat down with a thud. Don’t try to tell me that dogs aren’t capable of harboring offense. Luke was deeply offended. And he was no longer speaking to me.
The instructor was shocked at what she’d just witnessed. A temper tantrum of sorts that culminated in an obviously well thought out silent treatment. As I pleaded with Luke to forgive me and take his cheese bite, he refused to look at me. He was utterly disgusted. How dare I share HIS treats with another dog. I had really gone and done it. I anticipated much groveling and extra ice cream after class to inch my way back into Luke’s good graces. Say what you will about bulldogges, but simple-minded they are not. This demonstration of sophisticated logic not only highlighted Luke’s intelligence, but also a dynamic personality driven by strong emotions. Luke felt deeply. He loved fiercely and he protested loudly when things didn’t go to suit him. It was my profound soul connection with Luke that created a dynamic that allowed for such expressions of emotions to be validated. As amusing as this outburst was, I knew that I had some explaining to do.
Luke forgave me, eventually. He couldn’t hold a grudge for long with me doting over him and professing my undying love for him. I realized that evening that obedience training was a two-way street. Luke would comply to sitting, staying and heeling, but I would have to learn to properly steward his treats. Give and take. Any relationship worth its salt requires humility and flexibility. Luke didn’t care about basic obedience. He had no desire to trot around a rally course, stopping, turning, sitting and lying down. In fact, I’m pretty sure he thought the whole scenario was ridiculous. He did it, though. He did it because he loved me. Well, because he loved me and because of string cheese. But we’re not splitting hairs here. The point is, he generally went along with whatever I asked, even when he thought it was stupid. And I generally went along with whatever he asked, even when I thought it was irrational. That’s what love does. It doesn’t require that desires and feelings make perfect sense. It doesn’t analyze and scrutinize emotions. Love bores right into the middle of the complexity and reconciles hearts. My heart is forever reconciled to Luke. And I’ll never be able to eat string cheese without thinking of him.