82: Hootie’s Person

82: Hootie’s Person

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

Hootie’s Person

Animals can communicate quite well. And they do.

~Alice Walker

I sell dogs for a living, but not ones that run around or lift their legs. For twenty-plus years I’ve made art with dog images: paintings, drawings, and ceramic brooches. I sell my work to the public at Justin Herman Plaza across from the Ferry Building in San Francisco, where I’m known as the Dog Lady. Every day I’m open for business I talk dog.

Since my artwork marks me as a dog lover, people assume I’m a dog owner as well. “How many do you own?” I’m asked repeatedly.

My answer surprises them. “I don’t own any dogs, but I’ve lived with two, or three, or four—and for the last three years, since Penelope died, only one.”

I understand though, that by law, Hootie, my sixteen-pound, black-and-white Cairn Terrier mix, is my personal property. I’m considered his owner by the dog licensing department of San Mateo County where we live. I’m responsible for having him vaccinated against rabies every three years. I could be sued, fined, or arrested if he attacks or injures a human being or human property, such as another dog.

I’m the one you come looking for if he strolls from my front yard to yours in an occasional, unsupervised moment and poops on your lawn.

But morally and ethically, as far as I’m concerned Hootie’s no piece of property. He’s a living, breathing, feeling being, who knows joy, longing, anticipation, fear, and sadness. As I do. In our almost twelve years together (I adopted him from a rescue when he was three), I’ve observed him actively embrace pleasure, and, as actively, avoid discomfort.

I’ve watched him decide which of four treats laid down before him—each with different flavors and smells—was the one he wanted most. Hootie-the-toe-biter makes me laugh out loud when he backs down the hall before me, pretending to attack my toes, while I shuffle toward the kitchen and my morning cup of coffee.

The dog loves human attention. Definitely not a dog park kind of guy, Hootie’s favorite recreation is walking through the streets of our town, Half Moon Bay, and allowing people to fawn over him. I’ve seen him speculatively eye strangers seated on park benches, wag his tail, express his willingness to be petted. Sometimes, a non-dog-person brushes by him as though he wasn’t there, and he turns to me, surprised, head cocked, tail down a little, as if he’s saying, “Did you see that?”

Still, he doesn’t like everyone. He’s clearly annoyed by people on wheels—skateboards, roller skates, bicycles—and barks them a sharp reminder that he’s sixteen pounds and not to be trifled with.

Although he dislikes both youth and tallness in other dogs, he has friends. His favorite non-humans are Scrappy the Yorkie, Rollo the Cairn Terrier, and Buzz, the Sharpei/Lab—all of them laid-back dogs. (Hootie is a dignified guy and dislikes being leaped on.)

Now that he’s a senior dog, I’ve seen bewilderment in his eyes when his upward bound onto the family bed falls short. And something resembling chagrin, as he turns to walk carefully up the bedside ramp. Lately, I’ve been trying to convince him to walk down the ramp as well. He’s not ready to do this though. I can tell by the look he gives me just before leaping to the floor and sauntering down the hall: “I’ll show you who’s old.”

I have no doubt that Hootie, like me, has wants, needs, preferences, longings. He’s not “like a family member”—he IS a family member. And I see by the confident look in his eyes, by his proud step and tail held high, he knows this too.

“But what do you call yourself if not his owner,” my customer asks. “His guardian, his caretaker, his dog/mom, his friend?”

I’ve considered this question over years of life with dogs. No doubt, I’m his guardian and caretaker, and dogs have a childlike quality that brings out the mom in me. And he is—except for my husband Lee—my dearest friend in the world. But none of these titles express for me the nature of what Hootie and I are to each other.

“He’s my dog and I’m his person,” I say, offering my best answer to the question. “Hootie’s person, that’s me.”

~Lynn Sunday

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