October 24, 2006
He’s a handsome fellow, I have to admit. Standing on the hill in our back garden on four sturdy paws, strong little Jack Russell chest thrust out, ears cocked and folded in two perfect triangles, coat a radiant white and tan, he commands attention. And he has it. Not only mine, staring at him eye to eye from the kitchen window, but also my female puppy’s, in her first season, and pining for her first love.
Lucy knows he’s out there. She’ been leaving messages for him for days. I watch him following the trail, nose to the ground, getting the little note she left by the fence, that cryptic scent in the stones, and the trail of sweet nothings from the garden steps to the back door. At each point, he leaves his own message in response. "Don’t worry, I’ll come back, we two shall be as one," perhaps? Or maybe a more specific plan: "When she opens the door, bolt, and meet me in the pine forest." I don’t know exactly what they’re saying but I know what they intend.
They have to get by me, however, the gatekeeper, the wicked stepmother, the guardian of princess chastity, the killjoy to teen romance. "She’s too young," I say to Lucy’s little suitor, as he regards me steadily and heroically from the hilltop. "And by the time she’s old enough she’ll have had the operation, so fuggedaboudit buddy." She was supposed to have had the operation already, but she snuck into her first season the week we were bringing her into the vet. Oops.
When her handsome paramour eventually trots away, I take Lucy outside, on the leash, eyes scanning all entry points to our garden in case of a sudden dashing return. Lucy runs around happily, nose to the ground, tail wagging, reading each loving message left behind. Her body language is obvious. "He was here! He was here!" she is saying. "My love was here, and he’s coming back." Ecstasy.
I have a sudden flashback to my own teen years, plotting with my friends to be in the same place as our crushes of the moment. There were the obvious places, like the football games, the dances, the mall and McDonalds, and the less obvious places, like church. What a joy it was to see him in this incongruous setting, with family, chanting the Catholic litanies and going up to communion with an appropriately solemn look on his face. It made the service a lot more interesting, scanning the pews without appearing to scan, and watching the communion line while also directing a proper amount of reverence priestward.
Of course, once you got into the same place as him, you had to be cool. You had to not blow it. You had to casually nod or smile or wave in his direction, then turn back to your friends with a sotto voce "he smiled at me!" while appearing to be discussing the upcoming elections. What did that smile mean? It could be the source of discussion for hours.
For humans, this particular torture goes on for years, while we sort out our beliefs, our desires and our dreams, coming up with a version of ourself that holds steady in the face of attractive members of the opposite sex. For dogs, it’s over in three weeks. Even now, in week three, I think I see an ebbing of interest. Lucy sniffs around eagerly for her lover’s messages, then happily hunts a grasshopper, concentrating with lifted front paw before executing a perfect puppy pounce.
So I don’t have to feel too badly for my stern thwarting of puppy love. "Only one more week," I tell her, "and you’ll be back to normal. Then you can play with your little friend as mates." Of course, once she’s "normal," he might not be back, but that’s the way of life sometimes. There will be other little friends. And plenty of grasshoppers to hunt in the meantime.