Little Dogs

Violet Fearon

I like my little dog. I got him a few years ago, from a nearby shelter; he is about 8 pounds, and resembles a loose amalgamation of gray and brown pipe-cleaners. 

I like my little dog, although I do not know what particular variety of little dog he is. The people at the shelter said he was some sort of terrier, and judging by the way he burrows under blankets and pulls the leash taunt to wheeze at squirrels, they were probably right. A friend said he looked like a Maltese that was bred with a rat, and she might also be right. I like my little dog, no matter his ancestry; no matter his ancestry, my little dog is the same little dog. 

I like my little dog. This is not an original thought; Chinese emperors have liked their little dogs, and Victorian women, and 18th century fox hunters. Inuits and policemen and French peasantry have liked their big dogs, which is more or less the same situation, but with more square inches of fur. Behind my little dog and me, there is a chain of humans who like their dogs that stretches back and back and back, back farther than any religion or nation, back to the first uncommonly friendly wolf who wanted to get closer to the fire. For me, this chain is interesting to consider; for my little dog, it is not. 

I like my little dog, even though he is not smart. Other people who meet him will say he is smart, because he knows the word “dinner” and “walk”, and can push open an unlatched gate. By dog standards, he is perhaps mildly above-average,  but when compared with gorillas and parrots and elephants and humans, he would not fare very well. Other people will ascribe him various personality traits and motivations he does not possess; when he refuses to take a pill or vitamin he is defiant and stubborn; when he rolls off the couch he is “trying to be funny.” But my little dog operates almost entirely based on instinct; I know this, and accept this. This is how dogs work, and this is enough. 

My little dog does not have a one-track mind. He has a three track mind: where he will get food from next, when he will be walked next, and who will ring the doorbell next. His life revolves around the ever-changing states of these three variables, switching between anticipation and reward. He will never tire of running to the door when he hears the leash rattle. He will never have an existential crisis and suddenly stop barking when the bell rings. I like my little dog because he is not smart. 

Before he was in the shelter, I was told, my little dog was a stray on the city streets, where he never had enough to eat. Sometimes I wonder what his life was like then -  if he scavenged alone, in dumpsters and alleys, or if he lived with a group of feral dogs, a roving pack of skinny canines. I wonder about this, but I also know it does not matter. No matter his past, my little dog is now my little dog. 

I like my little dog. I like the way he lies on the warm wooden floor, always framed by a sunbeam; I like the way his eyes close when he nestles his snout between his paws. I like the way he does not think about politics or laundry or plans for next weekend or mortality. From what I can tell, he does not think about the past, or the future; he might not even think about the present. He does not think about how he will find the next sunbeam, whether it will be more or less warm than the one he is lying in now. He just stretches out, and sighs, and sinks deeper into the one he’s already found. 

Violet Fearon is a sophomore at Brandeis University. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, baking, and arguing with people online. In addition to dogs, she is also quite fond of cats.