She's what some people call a "yaller dog," but we like to think of her as buff, the color of sunlit wheat, the color of our family heart's desire.
When we drove out into the country to pick her up one chilly fall day two years ago, we were thinking of a companion for the boy in the house, someone to play fetch and follow a bike down the road and be glad when he got home from school. We are thinking of your normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill dog, the kind in a Norman Rockwell illustration.
What we got was the bondage of love and a reminder of the chains that tether us to the porch posts of our lives.
Yes, we keep her chained. She has a clothesline run in the back yard and a short chain outside the front door. She prefers to be always at the outer limit of her chain, straining to reach the experience just beyond her nose. Other dogs come by to tease her. They mill around and tumble over each other two feet beyond her reach. Rarely, only rarely, does she have the pleasure of a mutual sniff.
It is spring now, and exquisite scents drift by her beautiful, quivering nose. There are birds and squirrels and cats out there, and creatures burrowing in the ground, and people walking past who smell of other dogs. She reads the daily newspaper from afar, partaking of all the events of the world through the faint odors that come her way.
Sometimes the allure of that world is just too much for her and she barks and pulls against the chain, paying no attention to the choke collar tightening on her neck. She does not seem to remember about the chain at these times.
Had we not chosen her, she might have lived out her days a country dog, roaming the fields, nipping at the heels of cattle and scattering the chickens. I don't think she would have made it as a farm dog, helping out. She would have gone her own way, angering people by her intransigence, disarming them with her warm tongue and demand to be close, to be petted, to be part of the human pack.
But we chose her. She was timid and tried to hide between her enormous mother's legs there in the littered yard where she was born. At 12 weeks she came into a city house and ate two holes in the living-room rug. But we forgave her. She chewed her way through sneakers and shoes, but we forgave her. She made puddles everywhere, but we forgave her. She jumped into the boy's bed and settled into a nest among the blankets, and we let her stay.
Which one is coddled, the boy or the dog?
In short, we bowed to her dogginess and didn't know how to train away her wild and demanding spirit. The affection that she craves, we give willingly. We carry dog hair to all the worlds we visit.
I feed her tidbits because it gives me pleasure. She is captive to my delight in her, and I am captive to the light of life that moves in her vigorous little body and reaches to me from her small and homely eyes.
Spring is, as Robert Frost wrote, the mischief in me. I walk out of each glorious morning into the office building and feel the chokechain tightening on my neck. It's too beautiful a day to be indoors. That is the morning greeting, and we are all in accord.
Who came into the morning of our lives and chose for us these porch posts? Who forgave us for our puppyhood and let us grow to dog's estate, reading the daily news from afar, partaking of all the events of the world through the faint words that come our way? Who decreed that the chain is destiny, and to pull against it painful, but we must pull?
Just once, I would like to let Buffy run where she would. But i Won't. She would dig up a flower bed here and frighten a child there and attack the mailman. She would scatter damage in her path as lightly as she sheds her hair, and with as little regard for the consequence.
Anarchy is not safe for dogs or people.
That is why we settle upon the mixed blessings of chains of love and responsibility. I'm glad Buffy can't understand that and learn to pull less hard against her fate.
She teaches me to do the same -- to live at the end of my own rope, sniffing the fresh breeze for the scent of new and wonderful life, aspiring to break loose and run free, unmindful of the collar.