My dog, Murphy, is probably no smarter than the average dog, but she seems smarter because she has an unusually articulate face. She is a hound, so she has a lot of loose skin at the top of her head that she can furrow to varying depths, depending on her degree of puzzlement. Her jowls are Churchillian, and she uses them with statesmanlike eloquence. Her eyes are bright and expressive, even if the sentiment they usually express is some variant of “Huh?” She is given to idiosyncratic head tilts that can express inquisitiveness, defiance or concern. Her ears are enormous, heroic things, and though they are too large for her to prick up, she can raise and lower them like matador capes, as semaphores for her mood.
I tell you all this so you understand that my account of the following recent incident is not anthropomorphic guesswork, but precise translation.
I was sitting at my laptop in my dining room, with Murphy on my right, curled up on a dog bed. Suddenly she lifted her head, alerting to something. I followed her gaze. To my left, a fat little mouse had wandered out from under the stove into the middle of the kitchen. The mouse seemed unaware it was suddenly exposed and vulnerable. It was casually inventorying the floor.
The following dialogue was carried out entirely in thought and facial expression. Not a word was spoken, barked, bayed or squeaked.
Murphy: (looking back up at me) Is that right? That can’t be right.
Murphy: Okay, I’m pretty sure that’s wrong. I have lived here five years and recall no such precedent.
Me: Yes, it is surprising and unusual. Note the sudden tension in my body.
Murphy: Uh, do I have some sort of responsibility here?
Me: You are, by genetics, a hunter, a breed famous for reckless courage in the pursuit of bear or tusked wild boar. We both know that you are, in fact, not that at all. On walks you ignore birds and squirrels, and are intimidated by cats, avoiding humiliation by pretending not to see them, even when they hiss at you. Nonetheless, I think we both know that this is an important moment. In return for the lives of ridiculous lassitude that we give our dogs, humans do expect them to rise to the occasion when stereotypical doglike duties present themselves, such as dealing with a rodent.
Murphy: I’m definitely thinking of getting up and doing something about this. I wonder if those things have teeth.
Murphy: Okay, I am getting up now, real slow and loud and squirmy-like, with a great deal of unnecessary lateral motion.
Mouse: (looking up) YIKES!!!
For a second, the mouse looked like Fred Flintstone starting but failing to run, with legs windmilling in a blur. Then, it gained traction and was back under the stove in a nanosecond.
Murphy: HERE I COME, YOU SATANIC BEAST. PREPARE TO TASTE THE WRATH OF MURPHY THE WONDER DOG!
Murphy lumbered into the kitchen, inspected the stove.
Murphy: All clear, boss! Don’t think we’ll be bothered by that thing anytime soon!
Me: I see.
Murphy: But just in case, do you happen to know if they have teeth?