A mash note about dogs

Posted: Dec 25, 2006 12:00 AM

Even people who have known me for many years are sometimes surprised to learn how fond I am of dogs. It must be my curmudgeonly persona that misleads them. It’s humans who annoy me. The truth is, it’s dogs who should be surprised that I am fond of people.

I have always loved the bit of Indian lore that claimed in the olden days, God decided to create a divide between humans and all the other animals. He did this by creating a chasm between them. But at the last possible second, the dog leapt across in order to take his place with man.

Although I have always liked dogs, my mother didn’t approve of having them in the house, so I only came to have one fairly late in life. Both the dearly departed Sammy and the current master of the domain, Duke, have been Malteses. That’s my wife’s doing. Left to my own devices, I would have happily settled for mutts. I have nothing against the breed, but there is something slightly off-putting about living with animals whose pedigrees are so far superior to my own.

Something I’ve noticed is that dogs often bring out a rich store of wit and wisdom in people. While nobody seems to know who first said, “The reason a dog has so many friends is that he wags his tail instead of his tongue,” it was Will Rogers who remarked, “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went,” and Robert Benchley who observed, “A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down.”

Although I have my personal preferences, I genuinely like all breeds, with but one exception. That would be American Pit Bull Terriers. I know their owners insist these dogs are as sweet and gentle as baby lambs, and that even dog experts back them up, arguing that it all depends on how the animals are raised. It comes down to the age-old argument of nature versus nurture. Well, I will buy that Doberman pinschers and German shepherds have been unfairly maligned simply because they got mixed up with the wrong crowds; namely, Nazis and bigoted southern sheriffs. But when it comes to the bulls, I can’t help being a doubting Thomas. So, while I fully understand that some dogs can be trained to kill, I believe it nearly always goes against their basic instinct. However, pit bulls were created in the first place to participate in blood sports. And, frankly, with so many other breeds to choose from, I question the sanity of anybody who would select the one dog in which violence was bred in the bone.

In a way, people who bring these dogs home remind me of Muslims. Just as acolytes of Allah have to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to convince the rest of us that theirs is a religion of peace and love, pit bull owners have to waste their breath trying to convince us that Brutus is a little sweetie pie and not a ticking four-legged time bomb anxious to sit down to his favorite meal -- some fava beans, a nice Chianti, and your left leg.