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A little romance, a few laughs. It's all good.


“Excuse me. Excuse me,” the strident voice yelled out into the night.

I’d been trying to get my dog to come inside. She had been obsessed for days by a gopher hole and was furiously barking.

The voice was that of our neighbor who lives behind us. Although they moved in over two years ago, I have never officially met her. Up until that night, our sole encounter had been on one of the hottest days of the year, when I had watched her Golden Retriever signaling to get inside their house. With no one coming and my worrying about the dog’s condition, I tried to give him a drink of water. The woman came out, saying she had been about to bring the dog in. I explained what I was doing, remarked that the dog hadn’t drunk any of the water, and left.

Now fifteen months later, we were meeting again due to a dog.

“Your dog’s barking is ridiculous,” she bellowed. “I’m going to call the cops every time your dog starts barking.”

I tried to say something sarcastic but only came out with a lame comment. When I’m accosted, I cannot come up with the appropriate retort. I lose the words, only thinking of a great comeback hours later.

Was her frustration justified? Yes. It was late in the evening, her young children probably were asleep, her husband has a stressful job, and, on occasion, she teaches an early morning exercise class.

But to threaten to call the police the first time she addresses me on this issue was rude, ridiculous, and not conducive to maintaining good relations in the neighborhood. Did I call Animal Control when her dogs waited to be brought inside during a heat wave or bitter cold? No. Have I complained to them about their basement door security light that blinds me in the evening? No. While tempting, I won’t escalate any feud with her. My mouth is firmly shut.

Because someone who threatens to call the law will probably threaten using means outside the law. Watch the true crime seriesFear Thy Neighbor. Minor incidents morph into major ones and soon all Hell breaks loose. Even Mr. Rogers would need to run as far as his navy Keds could take him. Not me.

Before their house was built, we had put up a fence. Like Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” But we need more to keep the peace. At night, I’m taking my pooch out through the dog run on the other side of the house. Our next major purchase will be privacy shrubbery that grow up to six feet high, and nearly that wide. It will block out that security light’s glow and should help muffle any noise as well. Perhaps, you’d say, she’s won. But I have a feeling that keeping well away from these neighbors is a victory for us.


I’ve been feeling down the last couple of weeks. I first thought it was due to the change of seasons and lack of sunlight. But now I believe it’s because I haven’t seen much of my babies, my niece and nephew. In English slang, I’ve gone broody. Like a hen who wants to lay eggs and raise chicks, I’m in the mood for kids.

I first felt this way during Freshman year at college. I was alone in a new town three thousand miles from where I used to live. Add to that being far from any support network of friends who were going through their own experiences and didn’t remember me after I’d left, I found myself hungering for a baby.

I was only nineteen years old. I knew it was ridiculous. But the ache was real. I had no potential baby daddy and only a vague idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I was alone, lonely, and I wanted someone to love who would love me.

I weathered the crisis and in later years when I thought about having a baby on my own, I’d remind myself of that period of time and say “Absolutely not.” I don’t begrudge those who choose to become single parents. I simply knew that my personal motives were not pure.

Then my sister and brother-in-law had two kids. They graciously let me be a big part of my niece’s and nephew’s lives. I’d see them at least twice a week, and on Thursdays, I’d have dinner at their home and stay a few hours afterward, playing Candy Land or Barbies and reading bedtime stories. My brother-in-law named the time Thea Thursdays and it was the highlight of my week. The broodiness eased. A few years’ later, the family moved for a job opportunity and my mother and I followed to be near, to watch the children grow up and it’s been a privilege.

Now, puberty has hit and while they haven’t turned into teenage demon spawn, they are pulling away. There’s lots of homework, orchestra and band practice, friends to visit. The day after her sixteenth birthday, my niece was at the DMV to get her driver’s license. Months before, when she had her permit, she’d ask me to accompany her to practice her driving. We started out at empty parking lots then graduated to a few roads then visits to the market or to go buy some frozen yogurt. We’d have a great time together. After she got her license, it wasn’t me but her friends she invited to accompany her to the farmer’s market. She needs to feel independent, confident, and build friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime. Still, it hurts a little.

My niece has never been very demonstrative, except she often has been so with me. Out of nowhere, she’d squeeze me tight saying my name. Even in front of her friends. When she was little and sleeping over at our house, I’d awake to find that little body next to mine, arm around my shoulder and her sweet sleeping face, smiling with contentment. Even thinking about it now washes me with warmth.

My nephew at thirteen is more demonstrative. Even though he is getting quite tall and manly, he still gives me hugs and kisses, wants to tell me about the latest episodes of Steven Universe, and generally give me his opinions on everything. I know that not far off into the future, he’ll pull away from me, thinking I’m too old and unhip and will want to hang out more with his friends or a particular girl who’s going to last a lot longer and stronger in his affections than his first crushes Ava, Cassie, or Arielle from the Little Mermaid. And that is how it should be.

I can tell he is going to be an incredible man. But still, I will miss the boy.

Both kids want to leave the state and return to California for college. This area is too sedate for them. They yearn for more excitement and adventure. My niece and her friends are talking about traveling to Burning Man in a couple of years. My babies want to see the world and I want that for them. I want them to take advantage of the opportunities that come their way instead of being too scared to try. I’m happy that they are so confident and brave. But I worry and want to hold them tight. There will be a hole in my heart from missing them, however, I realize that their steps to forge an independent identity is a necessary thing.

But still…


According to a recent article in the journal Learning and Behavior, while dogs are certainly intelligent, they are not inherently smarter than other animals. After reviewing hundreds of studies on animal cognition, the authors found that other animals, such as cats or pigeons, met or surpassed the abilities of dogs.

I beg to differ. There are many different types of intelligences and these researchers are missing the intelligence that our best friends have in abundance: the ability to grift. I’ve known some marvelous canine con artists over the years and even though the evidence presented below is empirical, I defy the reader to doubt the dog’s high intelligence afterward.

Case #1: Niner, a black lab/border collie mix was able to pick out from his toybox the particular toy we asked him to bring us. While noteworthy, it’s not particularly impressive as he only had about fifteen toys. In contrast, a border collie named Chaser can differentiate between 1,000 toys. But Niner’s special gift was being a consummate pickpocket. Lawn guys, plumbers, repairmen, all of them were astonished to see Niner holding their pencil or even their wallet in his soft mouth after he had gently pried the booty out of their pants back pockets. Interestingly, while surprised, none were ever angry, probably because of Niner’s hypnotic chocolate eyes. All I know is that if he had been human, he’d have taken over the world. And we’d all have loved it.

Case #2: In point of contrast, our current black lab, Molly, is less a persuader, more a bulldozer. There is nothing subtle about her. No soft mouth. A tail that can decimate the knickknacks sitting on a coffee table in one swoop. But it’s her incessant bark that likens her to an enforcer in a crime ring. Instead of breaking legs, she barks to get her way. When her mealtimes roll around, she will bark non-stop until fed. But it doesn’t end there. After she finishes her meal, it’s time to bark at me to start cooking the family dinner. Then a few hours after dinner, she begins her next round of barking, so that I’ll return to the kitchen for clean-up, all in the hope that I’ll throw her a crust of bread or a stray Brussel sprout left on a plate. Remember when Taco Bell tried that “fourth meal” marketing campaign? They should have used Molly in their ads. I’m sure her bullying would have made it a success.

Case #3: Our Irish Setter, Dellie was adopted by our family after three other families returned her to the shelter. She was a wonderful dog and we had no regrets owning her, but she was a petty thief of food (the most annoying being a steak and some rum balls) as well as a vagrant (sleeping on the family room couch whenever she could). But she was also entertaining when trying to con us into believing her worth as the family protector. Recognizing the sound of our car as we drove down the street, she’d arise, turn toward the nearby trees and begin to bark at the squirrels in them, occasionally looking back at us in the car with an expression that translated to, “see, I’m earning my keep.”

Case #4: I save the most amazing story for last. Our relatives had a shepherd mix named Vega. An absolutely sweet dog but not considered terribly bright until this incident occurred. My relatives returned home, after a few hours of running errands, to discover that Vega had defecated in the shower (how they knew it was Vega and not their other dog is too long to explain). After the discovery, they let the dogs out into the backyard. Vega walked over to a spot on the lawn where an old turd lay, stood over it, and PRETENDED TO POOP THAT TURD as though to prove that he hadn’t pooped out the turd in the shower. Now that is Evil Genius kind of stuff!

So, until I hear about other animals trying to perform cons like this, I submit that dogs are the smartest animals of all time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a few Beagles to recruit for my new criminal enterprise.

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