SUCH A GOOD BOY

The day before I leave to South Dakota brings a little snow and lots of ice, so I give the dogs their weekly marrow bones as consolation for the lack of walks; I won’t be around this weekend.

Harry’s been a guard of resources since the day I got him. That’s the name for a dog that goes after all food, including the food of other dogs (or humans, for that matter). Harry’s the only dog I had who jumped up not just to the butcher block table to get at an egg salad sandwich, but also up on the higher counter where I’d left a pot of soup to cool.

More seriously, he’s attacked Aussie three times over bones and rawhide, twice causing her serious injury. He hasn’t done this in nine months, but I still manage them carefully, separating them not just at food time but also when they get snacks, shutting my office door on Harry after giving him his bone.

After an hour he’s finished his marrow bone and looks up. He can hear Aussie’s teeth grinding away at her bone in her corner under the dining table three rooms away. She likes to take her time and be extra loud about it. He’s already gone to drink from the water bowl and now sits back on his haunches next to my chair, looking up at me with great significance. I stop what I’m doing at my desk and look down. He eyes me, then looks over his shoulder listening to Aussie chewing away on her bone, then turns and looks back at me again, and I know.

He’s showing me that even as he hears Aussie grinding away on a marrow bone that he’d love to take away from her—he’s not doing it. He’s not going after Aussie, he’s not going after her bone. All year he’s heard me say on these occasions, when he’s finished with something and she’s not: Leave Aussie alone. I don’t say it now, I don’t have to. He looks over his shoulder again, then back at me as if to say: See? I’m not going after her.

And suddenly I’m so moved by how much he’s learned in the 13 months he’s been with us, how eager he’s been to find his place. He’s young and intense, without Aussie’s poise and planful intelligence, not a cunning bone in his body, he’s way too straight and explosive for that. And he’s learning. We’re all learning.

“You’re such a good dog, Handsome Harry,” I murmured to him as my hand fusses over his forehead and he closes his eyes with pleasure. “You’re such a good boy.” I give us both a few precious moments to appreciate the dance we’ve done together, the way we took a chance on life together. One more disturbance, I actually thought last May, and he’s gone. I’ll find another home for him, a family that will adopt him as an only dog. But I also worked with him, shutting the door on him though he whined a bit at that, warning him to leave the other alone when he finally got out.

You work and you work, and you have no idea what will come out in the end. Will he finally learn (“Once a resource guard, always a resource guard,” one trainer warned me)? You think you know what the point is, but really you don’t. None of us know what the point of anything really is. We think we might be alive for a reason, but in the end we might just be machines for producing carbon dioxide.

About timeless eternity, I have nothing to say. But I can take a few minutes and look into Harry’s brown eyes. His earnestly ask me to pay attention, while mine are filled with gratitude. “Such a good boy,” I tell him again and again.