Dogs and Life

Cooper, the day after we brought him home.

Dogs have been a part of my life nearly all of my life. And two weeks ago I got a puppy.

It was a Brittany Spaniel. I was ready to adopt a dog and the Brittany had become my dream dog. But I’d briefly given up trying to find one since they weren’t that popular around here. But then I found some breeders in Arizona, and on July 4th, Nicholas and Sophie and I drove to Coolidge, AZ to pick up an 8-week old puppy we decided to name Cooper.

I thought Coolidge was going to be a tidy bedroom suburb of Phoenix. But it turned out to be a country town, if you could even call it a town, on a flat patch of desert that was quite a ways south of the metropolis. A dirt road took us over an irrigation ditch to the breeder’s rural house where she had a kennel of Brittanies out back. We paid $1300 for Cooper, who the breeder was clearly sorry to part with, then we put him in our car and drove away. The temperature was approaching 110 degrees.

Maybe the dogs in my life were evidence of my middle class existence. A family portrait from the mid-sixties shows my dad in a suit, my brother and me as little kids wearing jackets and ties, my mother looking beautiful in a red dress and, seated at her feet, our fox terrier Freddy.

In fact the presence of a dog at home became a cliche of family bliss. Right? A man’s got it made when he’s got a house, a wife, two kids and a dog. So it’s funny that I’m getting a dog as my marriage is falling apart. In my family picture the wife is a missing puzzle piece. But at least I’ve got a dog.

Cooper is orange and white, with a white stripe descending from the top of his head that broadens over his muzzle. The white stripe bisects the orange fur that surrounds his eyes and covers his ears. They’re the signature markings of a Brittany Spaniel. One reason I fell for Brittanies is they’re so damn handsome. And even though I’ve never hunted, I love gun dogs. Maybe their instinct to bond with a hunter makes it natural for them to bond with a family.

When you walk around the neighborhood with a puppy you attract attention. The same guy drove past us on two separate occasions as other people were admiring Cooper. The second time he stopped to tell me that I had become the most popular guy in the neighborhood. If you’re a single man, a puppy is the ultimate chick magnet. But they’re a magnet for pretty much anyone. It helps that Cooper seems to like anyone, dog or human.

I remember reading John Steinbeck’s book, Travels with Charley, about the time he toured the country in a camper with a standard poodle named Charley. He said he brought Charley with him for several reasons. The first was companionship. Also, he was going to be camping in a lot of dark, lonely places and standard poodles are good watch dogs. The other reason: Being with a dog is a great way to get people to talk to you.

The ice-breaking nature of a dog lets us connect with people, even those with opposing political views, and these days that’s saying a lot. The attitude of gratitude and the non-judging nature of a dog is something we can all agree to love. Even in my own home, Cooper has brought me and my two kids together.

I’m taking a couple weeks off from work. It’s been a summer vacation like I used to know, when school was out and you spent the summer around the house in idleness. The laptops and smartphones are still there, seeking our attention, but now there’s something else to we can do. We can watch Cooper’s antics and tell stories about him. We can wrestle with him and complain about him as he tries to nip our hands. We’ve focused our attention on the puppy, and he’s united us in that extraordinary way that a dog can do.

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