This summer, my family and I spent a lot of time with small children who were relatives of one stripe or another. During several occasions, I noticed all of the toddlers had one in common: they were dog crazy. In June, an 18 month old and a four year old, along with their parents, came camping with us and our two Jack Russells. The bond was instant. The four year old spend virtually every waking moment cohorting with FrankieTexas as she calls them, squashing their names together into one. She never took her hand off the handle of the leash, she sat with them, cuddled with them, even French kissed them amidst an avalanche of giggles. After about 24 hours, the dogs lay stretched out in the grass and fine ash surrounding the fire pit, exhausted. Their little keeper held onto the leash, threatening to drag them on a walk the moment they were able to stand.
I wondered if the attraction is about the dogs being about the same size? Though I was assured that the little girl is just as enthralled with an aunt and uncle’s Rhodesian ridgeback, who is nearly twice as tall as she is. Perhaps it is just my niece’s personality, I thought; an animal lover who is starting early. This idea was supported by the behaviour of the 18 month old, who was terrified rather than enamoured, despite no scary past experiences with canines. She’s slight of build, delicate in fact, with delicate features to match. She’s sweet, always smiling and usually gets fought over among the motherly segment of family gatherings. The entire camping trip, she spent all her time in her mother’s arms pointing at their adorable noses saying “doggie,” “ruffruff,” “bite me,” and most often “no.” She cried and whined and yelled “no” much louder if she was put down in their vicinity. Clearly, not all children like dogs.
Several weeks later, another four year old came to visit. Shy, unspeaking and most interested in engineering feats – how to nail boards together and that sort of thing – he, too, surprised me by quietly taking the leash out of my hand. He spent the next two hours taking the dogs for walks around and around the house. Being mechanically minded, his main focus was the leash. During breaks, he tangled and untangled the leads around chair legs, and clipped and unclipped them to their collars. He discussed the best way to hold them, and the relative strength of leather versus nylon. He couldn’t remember their names, but he loved them just the same.
Not long after, me and Frankie and Texas were at yet another family get together. A bigger one this time; all of the young ones were gathered in one place, a small, pleasant backyard. Unlike home, the dogs could not wander off into the fields to find the perfect patch of timothy grass to poop on. And so, it was to my utter embarrassment that my brother –in- law found a large pile of dog poo while standing barefoot on the manicured lawn. A cousin laughed at my genuine astonishment – I don’t know how it happened, I don’t know how it could be my dogs, I kept a close eye on them the entire time, they were never off their leashes. But, here it was. And two more piles close by. I felt all 30 pairs of eyes watch as I bent and picked it up. I’m not a dog person, I told myself. This was my husband’s idea. As soon as their time is up, that’s it. No more dogs.
Then, the eighteen month old arrived. Approaching in her mother’s arms, she pointed at their poo-sniffing noses and said, “doggie” and “ruff-ruff.” And immediately, and delicately, reached out to grasp the leash in my hand. “You want to hold onto Texas?” I asked in astonishment. She nodded, wriggled to get down, and proceeded on wobbly feet to take them for a walk around the yard. I patted Frankie and said “good boy,” and he cocked his head in the way he does that makes his ears flop and makes me laugh. My dog poo-hardened heart melted. His tail wagged and the back half of his body wagged with it. And I wondered yet again, why it is that we have such a strong and seemingly innate connection with these meat-eating troublemakers.