The Perfect Dog -- One Who Is Elsewhere

By Bill Hall

We have found the perfect dog -- one that lives with someone else 250 miles away.

It's the same thing that makes grandchildren the most popular form of kids.

We were visiting our three Boise children and their families one recent weekend when we encountered one of the most affable dogs I have ever met. He was a temporary resident at our daughter's house. She frequently boards strays for the overcrowded local pound until they can be placed. It is normal to find a few extra animals around her place every time you visit.

This particular time, she had a small black dog with some extra helping of charm in its personality, not the least of which was that it doesn't bark until your ears ring in the fashion of so many dogs.

This pooch is a sane little dog, about 8 inches high at the shoulder. It is a poodle that doesn't look like a poodle because it doesn't have a competition haircut. I mention that because a lot of people are put off by the formal poodle haircut. That haircut contributes to the breed's reputation as some kind of symbol of the rich and snooty. It is a snob dog in some minds.

Maybe that judgment fits some of the breed's owners -- the sort of people who give the dog a haircut that makes it look like those severely shaped shrubs (called topiaries) that some people have in their yards. You know the kind of haircut -- the dog trimmed very close over most of its body but with fluffy puffs of hair (what a cat might call "hair balls") in strategic locations. A traditional poodle looks like a half dozen dishwashing sponges with legs.

But don't blame the dog for that. That's snootiness by association. There has never been a case of a dog begging for a weird haircut unnatural to its kind. It is only human beings who do that.

In reality, poodles are like every other mutt in the world. There is nothing fancy about them. They are into all the usual vulgar dog habits from toilet drinking to sniffing others in rude locations.

Keep a poodle away from the hair stylist and it just grows plain old, naturally curly fur. And far from being some kind of airhead, as often portrayed in cartoons, poodles are actually rated as one of the smartest dogs. In fact, I have read that they are the third smartest dog behind border collies and a breed I can't remember now, probably because I'm not smart enough. But it doesn't matter whether I remember because the whole idea of an official list of dogs, ranked in the exact order of their intelligence, is a bit of a stretch.

In the first place, intelligence is a relative term. One dog may be fairly sharp by comparison with another. But by comparison with a chimp or even a horse, most dogs lack both mental and social skills. Next to a nightcrawler, dogs may be geniuses but let's not get carried away with the intelligence of a species whose members chase cars and eat garbage.

In the second place, how do you determine that a border collie is No. 1, a poodle is No. 3 and that a beagle wouldn't stand a chance against a clam in a game of Jeopardy? Did they sit these dogs down and give them SAT tests?

This little dog at my daughter's house has unusual social skills, not the least of which is keeping his little yap shut and talking to you with his kind eyes. My wife and I were immediately taken with him. It was sort of pals at first sight.

But there was a problem. We don't do dogs anymore. We are gone from home too much and you can shatter a dog emotionally by leaving it alone.

There is also the matter of the three cats who would have a small stroke if they had to share a home with a dog. The best part about cats is that they aren't all that friendly. They enjoy your company while you're around. But if you're gone for three days and you leave out plenty of chow, so what? They enjoy a little break from having you around the house.

Nonetheless, this was a great dog. Fortunately, our daughter-in-law thought so, too. And she has no pets, except for our son, of course. We nudged her a bit and she took the pooch home.

So we have a new dog -- the best kind, the kind we can visit without having to actually live with it.

It's virtually like having another grandchild, though one who walks on all fours and occasionally refreshes himself from the porcelain spring.



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