Variations of Meat-Loyalty, As Exhibited By Two Small Dogs
It’s very important to me that the dogs love me significantly more than anyone else in the house. I make no secret of this, and to that end I make sure that no one else feeds them but me. As a direct result of this bribery, every night the big dog, who weighs ten pounds, sleeps on my ankles, and the little dog, who weighs five pounds, sleeps on my shins, and I sleep the sound sleep of the just.1
Mostly they eat pellets. The pellets have been carefully designed with an eye towards nutrition and wholesomeness, but they are pellets nevertheless, and there is a limit to how excited any living creature can get about pellets. For this reason I make sure to provide them with extra insurance a few times a week: the culinary equivalent of walking-around money, or “a little something for yourself.”
The results speak for themselves. Under even ordinary circumstances, these dogs are strange creatures. Their heads are like little tennis balls with a Muppet-mouth sliced across the equator, or upside-down china tea cups with a fat bumblebee trapped inside. Twice a day they put on a wrestling exhibition which consists mostly of opening their mouths and pretending to bite the air near each other’s face, while never coming anywhere near biting anything. The rest of the day they spend draping themselves over the arms of the couch and napping.
If, however, I choose to feed them a morsel of chicken, they develop a condition I have come to call chicken madness: For up to fifteen minutes afterwards, they will parade up and down the length of the apartment, tails bright like war-banners, occasionally crawling underneath the bed and flinging themselves out from underneath like a successful initiate in the Orphic mysteries; of course, this is procedure is accompanied the entire time by the most boisterous and relentless shouting imaginable. “I have had chicken,” they seem to say, “and now the knowledge of chicken lives in me; no one had better try to tell me anything ever again.” The effect is one of haughtiness, frenzy, consciousness of aristocracy, spoiling for a fight, gleeful disobedience, tumult. Afterwards they are spent, and must sleep under the coffee table for at least twenty minutes before they are good for anything.
Once every few months I might offer them a turn with a roasted beef bone. If chicken-madness arrives like an unheralded spring, the dogs’ experience of beef goes deeper and more thoroughly shakes things up. They are silent at such times, as this madness is more serious and requires a deeper form of attention. They tremble like aspen leaves, of course. But for all they may shake, they do their best not to move. They grow deep roots on the spot, and issue forth a series of quiet, vicious sorties against the bone, eyes pained and glazed with ambition. Afterwards they seem hot and feverish, and dance perilously together on the pink couch, which was once forbidden to them. They no longer accept boundaries.
Nor are they willing to accept the possibility that beef can end; once fed beef, they will go on looking for it the rest of the day, certain they have merely misplaced the rest of the cow somewhere in the apartment. You can see an example of the beef-insistence here:
Slightly more frequent is the appearance of a scrap of sardine. The oiliness of the fish seems to produce a greater adherence in the bond between them. They are united by the promise of fish, where the promise of flesh makes them slightly quarrelsome; their movements grow more subtle and twinlike, and they haunt my feet.
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It does not do to overdo the giving of meat, however. Earlier this week I noticed the remains of most of a rotisserie chicken breast on the sidewalk; I thought I had successfully maneuvered the dogs around it when I suddenly recognized in Bon-Bon’s walk a characteristic jauntiness I usually associate with the capture of treasure. He ordinarily reserves this particular walk for when he has re-discovered the orange plastic ball that usually falls behind the bookcase, with his head born proudly high and an additional insolence in his hindquarters, swaying his plume-tail back and forth in double-time.
I drew level with him, and sure enough, there was the discarded chicken breast seized primly in his tiny jaws. It must have taken all his strength to keep his head up, since it was certainly heavier than his own skull, and he had to continually readjust his bite in order to keep hold of the ribs.
Nor would he hear of dropping it, despite my most encouraging blandishments. He trotted on in a mixture of merriment and frenzy. From time to time Gogo would leap at him in a sidelong maneuver, hoping to knock the chicken from his jaws, but there was nothing doing.
I tried to nudge the treasure from his mouth with my shoe, because nothing in the world could have induced me to touch room-temperature sidewalk chicken with my bare hands, but I might as well have tried to kick the moon and the stars out of the sky. I had no choice but to wage a war of attrition, and so we walked another seven blocks until he could bear the load no longer, and dropped it unwillingly on a curb. Longingly, hatefully, like the wife of Lot he looked back at it; he has known chicken and as a result can never again know peace.
Once a week or so the little dog will try to fall asleep on Lily or the couch instead, but a wounded exclamation of “Gogo” will fetch him back. I think it’s basically fine to emotionally manipulate a dog once in a while.