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Mark Steinberg

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My Terrible Secret: I Have 'Canis Envy'

Posted: 07/02/2012 7:22 pm

I've been living with it for decades and can't bear another minute of my deception.

I have canis envy.

My dog Dayton has something I want very, very badly. It's not the treats or the tummy rubs or the ability to reach every part of his body with his tongue. It's that he feels, or at least looks like he feels, that everything that's happening to him is happening for the first time -- like seeing Groundhog Day every day and being surprised by the ending.

Every dog owner knows what I'm talking about. You take a step in the direction of the front door and he goes nuts.

"Outside? Me? Surely you mean the parakeet or the fireplace tools. Me? I can't stand it. I think I'll jump up and down and rip the front of your shorts, but first let me thank all the little people who made this possible."

So you get the leash on him and lead him towards the door. He jumps up and down and rips the back off your shorts. Heading into the street, the leash goes taut, like there's a 600,000 pound marlin on the other end. He can't believe his good fortune.

"Oh my God, is this really happening? I've got to run over there then run over here then run over there again so I don't miss anything. Who knew? I think I'm going to plotz."

His reaction is the same when he approaches other dogs.

"Do you see that at 12 o'clock? Four legs, wet nose, tail! I could be looking in a mirror but I know I'm not because that good-looking lady holding the leash is in front of me and you're not. Wait, let me jerk your arm out of the socket to make sure. Yep, you're behind me."

When he and the other dog come face to face, they are speechless (though admittedly that is not a reliable indicator of a dog's state of mind). While from there the encounter may play out as a barely avoided Armageddon or as play date, there is one constant: determined, meticulous, exhaustive sniffing.

And as they move their noses front to back, up to down, side to side, each participant consigns the data he has collected to his contacts file... which has a hole in the bottom. Thus, if he met the same dog attached to the same lady at the same place and time, the sniffing ritual would repeat itself, with both participants walking on and never thinking, "That butt is really familiar."

If translated to our species, the gift of experiencing everything for the first time would have obvious upsides, small and large. The ability to muster a genuine laugh at your uncle's 57th telling of a joke that was off-color in 1958 but lapsed into on-color in 1978; gasping at every pristine sunrise or sunset or, if you live in Finland, gasping at the sun staying in the same place all the time. And then there's gelato.

At some point, of course, the things each of us would like to feel we are seeing or doing for the first time becomes very specific, very personal. At least one, possibly four or five, go without saying... or at least without saying in family blog. Others, like seeing a painting that moved you to tears when you first saw it, getting a first glimpse of your baby, or hearing a whisper in your ear from someone very close, saying nothing but everything... are yours and yours alone.

For my part, I'm going with Dayton. I want to feel three times a day that he is, in fact, taking his first walk. I want to laugh every time he fails to recognize a dog he's met 30 times before. I want to infinitely reprise my feeling when he reacted with uninhibited joy to his first treat and first "You're a very, very good boy."

I know it's like asking for a stick of beef jerky when a genie gives you one wish. But ya know, for some reason I can't put my finger on, that doesn't sound half bad.

 
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