Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Balto, he's not.

It happens at least a couple times a week while I'm out walking my new dog. Someone asks where I got him, I reply "The Humane Society," and they say, "Oh, so he's a rescue dog."

This puzzles me, as that phrase makes me picture heroic dogs from history, a parade of Baltos carrying diphtheria medicine to kids in Nome.

Now that's a rescue dog. We've had Turtle for four months, and he hasn't rescued much of anything, though he has liberated several perfectly good watermelon rinds from the compost pile, and freed an errant tennis ball that rolled under the raspberry bushes (he paused only briefly to gently pluck and eat the ripest berries).

But I know that the well-meaning commenters aren't thinking of Balto. What they mean is that we rescued Turtle, in which case, we simply have a semantics issue: Turtle as a rescue-d dog, not a rescue dog.

This puzzles me, too, mainly because it pins an act of heroism where it doesn't belong. Our family had been talking about getting a dog ever since our daughter was two years old and first asked for one. Both my husband and I grew up with dogs. We loved them, but felt our hands were full with her, plus her baby brother, and the four stray cats we'd already adopted. We told her to wait until she was six. Guess what? She remembered that conversation. And so just a couple weeks after her sixth birthday, we had Turtle. We chose him; we bought him from the shelter. Entirely serving our self-interests. I realize we could instead have gone to a breeder or one of the unfortunately ubiquitous (to our area of Ohio) puppy mills, but that was never an option. We're just not a pure-bred type of family; only mutts for us.

I recently saw a bumper sticker of a picture of a dog's paw that said, "Who rescued whom?" It made me smile, knowing the power of animals to help lift people's spirits. All the writers I've known, myself included, can be prone to mood swings (it's hard walking around with all those characters' voices in our heads...). But you know who isn't prone to mood swings? Turtle. If I want his attention, I have it, and I don't have to bribe him for it either, like I do with my cats who often seem just to tolerate me as their litter-box cleaning servant.

Without getting into the whole dog vs. cat vs. gerbil thing, I will say that Turtle has added an element of chaos to my life that wasn't there with the cats, and that this is actually a good thing. As a rather rigid type A person, I've been forced to change my schedule to suit the dog's needs (he might need to go out while I'm in the middle of writing a perfect paragraph, he needs daily walks, etc.). Turtle looks at me and seems to say, "loosen up, chick," and I thank him for that. My writing thanks him, too. I've found that the more playfulness in my life, the more in my writing, and playfulness leads to new discoveries.

Now, back to that rescue designation.Could a dog named Turtle, a lab mix who's scared of the water, really rescue anybody? I hope we never have to find out, and yet, he has already bonded himself firmly to our family. Plus, he's got the nice shiny white chompers to defend us, assuming there are no raspberry bushes to distract him.