Last fall, we ran an excerpt from Gene Weingarten's book "Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs," in which Gene tried to cash in on the horrifying reality that dogs age seven times as fast as humans, and when they do, all the love of a lifetime gets boiled down to a rich, gooey syrup of affection and nostalgia. He's still cashing in. Check out the adaptation of a speech he gave to the Washington Animal Rescue League on Page 40.
Well, Gene's dogged pursuits have resulted in an unexpected result for me. My Editor's Note in the "Old Dogs" issue of the Magazine focused on my own old dog, Sally, age 9, and featured her photograph. After it ran, I got the following message: "My dog, Page, is the same age as your Sally and bears an uncanny resemblance to her." Page, the message said, was rescued from a pound in rural Page County by the Rappahannock Animal Welfare League.
"Twilight Zone" music started playing in my head. Sally also was adopted from the Rappahannock Animal Welfare League, whose members told us she was found wandering around Page County. Both dogs were Lab-hound mixes with white tips on their tails and uncommon pink noses. And the coincidences didn't end there: The reader was Liz Kelly, a.k.a. "Chatwoman," the producer of Gene's weekly chat on washingtonpost.com.
Liz and I resolved that we would someday see if the sisterhood presumption could pass the sniff test. That finally happened one recent drizzly morning when Sally and I trucked across town to meet Liz and Page. Liz warned that Page had been attacked while in a cage at the pound and "doesn't usually do well around other dogs."
But I was fantasizing that a familial scent would override the skittishness. I'd also made a list of Sally's personality quirks -- puts head on pillow when sleeps, opens door by batting the handle with paw, greets every stranger as new best friend, etc. -- to see how many Page would match.
In the flesh, Page was taller and 15 pounds heavier than Sally. Her hair wasn't quite as dark or as wiry. Sally immediately ran to Page, but she does that with every dog she sees. Page's hair stood on end, but she didn't snarl, and soon they were walking down the street pleasantly enough: Sally sniffing the strange new smells, and Page watching Sally with a mixture of caution and interest.
I quickly realized that most of the hits on my behavior list -- licks dishes in dishwasher, doesn't swim, doesn't care about balls -- were true of millions of dogs, and I was forced to conclude that the only evidence of sisterhood was the coincidence of their origins. They were as different in as many ways as they were alike.
But then again, think back to your last family reunion.
Tom Shroder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.