“You guys, my daughter is so smart.” “Hey, seriously, my son is really, really good at everything.” (Cue the trumpets.) “I hereby declare, our dog is the sweetest, kindest, most polite and dumbest canine God has bestowed upon us all, and I will fight any man or woman who says otherwise!” I’ve been guilty of one of these former proclamations.
Parents of children and animals whip these phrases around as if they are stone cold gospel only furthering themselves from parishioners questioning their beliefs. Sometimes, when it comes to family, pride can cloud our judgment, much like honesty can get you in a heap of trouble with your significant other.
I’m not knocking parents, because I think they actually convince themselves that these statements are true, and that, my friends, is unconditional love. It is also, sometimes, confirmation of their legal blindness. When their sons or daughters grow up, they may or may not end up being astronauts, professional athletes, rap stars, blackjack or coke dealers, but, one way or another, they will, without exception, live up to some form of standard.
When my wife and I had our first child, a bernese mountain dog we named Etta, after about two years of her life, I determined that she wasn’t terribly smart. Sweet, but not smart. (Sometimes, I prefer people with similar characteristics. It seems to clear up the pretentiousness.) None too happy about my remark, for months my wife denied our ebony and ivory fur ball was anything short of future canine valedictorian status.
Not being a member of the “make your animals do tricks” organization, my wife and I would just give simple orders. “Sit, please.” “Wait……wait.” “Where’s your ball?” In addition to finding her gigantic beach ball sitting just feet away from her, she was pretty good at the former two commands or suggestions as well. But, it was her genuinely goofy, rather dumb looking smile she would maintain at all times, making you think her mind was in another room or county.
Frequently traveling with Etta and our other dog, Jack, gave us time to evaluate her intelligence, or lack there of, outside of her comfort zone. Six years ago, my nephew was participating in a wrestling tournament in Wenatchee, Washington in mid December. Although there was a winter storm warning, we packed up the dogs and headed east, opting to stay the night at a dog friendly hotel. After the tournament, and before heading to bed, we took the dogs outside for a potty break and a romp in the six inches of snowfall. Being impervious to the cold, our large dogs had a blast as we threw gigantic snowballs directed at their bulbous heads, only to laugh at them attempting to catch the balls in their mouths. It was terrific family fun, and Etta’s goofy smile never wavered. Not being impervious to the cold, my wife and I finally decided it was time to head back to the room. Etta must have understood the outdoor fun was over, and before we could tell them to follow us back to the room, Etta decided to lead the way, and surprisingly, she was heading precisely to our room which had direct access outside from the first floor. My wife, Britt, looked at me with excitement and said, “She knows which room we’re in. I don’t think she’s as dumb as you think she is.” At that very moment, Etta busted through the screen door to our room and dove onto our bed, soaking it with her drenched locks. The grin she maintained as we followed her path into the room negated any lecture we may have provided as we looked from her to the now useless screen door on the rug, riddled with a less than inconspicuous hole. I then looked at my wife with a smile and didn’t say a word. We never spoke of her intellect again.
For eight years, this warm and wonderful dog warned us when people were in our driveway. If she liked you, she’d rest peacefully at your feet. When having fun, her laughter was a gregarious bark. Although not bred for swimming, she would happily retrieve tennis balls in the Puget Sound on a sunny day just to please us. After inadvertently passing wind in our living room, embarrassed, Etta would quietly excuse herself to her own doggie timeout, even though we didn’t mind. When Britt or I were sick, she’d sense it and huddle close to comfort us. When Jack, six years older than Etta, needed to go outside for a break, she’d come upstairs to let us know. Up until the day of her passing, I don’t remember her tail not waging. She may not have been the smartest dog on the block, but no one who met her, whether it be at home, the park, the vet clinic, or on vacation could present an argument that she wasn’t the sweetest dog in our world.