Part of the joy of living with dogs is recognizing and celebrating their magnificent stupidity. It is also a boon to me as a humor columnist. I can drily observe, for example, that after 20,000 years of domestication, dogs still haven’t figured out that when you point a finger, you are not inviting them to smell it.
So, it is with some professional concern that I have been watching the increasingly sophisticated tripartite negotiations among me, my dog, Murphy, and a guy named Mitch. Murphy is winning.
On weekends, Mitch makes crepes in a food wagon two blocks from my house. Needless to say, Mitch is a very important person in Murphy’s life. Murphy monitors the comings and goings of Mitch with the same level of breathless intensity shown by the editors of supermarket tabloids watching the comings and goings of Kardashians. When Mitch takes a day off, Murphy is inconsolable.
The first time Murphy met Mitch, she sniffed the air coming from his wagon, and sat. We still had a walk to complete, but Murphy made it clear that she was prepared to remain there forever, or until something from that wagon found its way into her mouth. So, I ordered a cheese and cinnamon crepe — my favorite — and shared it with Murphy. A weekend routine was born.
This went on for months, until one day Murphy refused to eat the crepe. I looked at her, concerned. Mitch looked at her, concerned. At which point Murphy stood up on Mitch’s wagon and stuck her nose over a tub of turkey bacon.
“I think she’s changing her order,” Mitch said.
From that day on, I ordered a turkey bacon crepe, and, because I don’t like turkey bacon, Murphy got it all. This lasted for another few months, until one day Murphy spit out the egg part.
Murphy looked at Mitch. Mitch looked at Murphy, grabbed a fistful of turkey bacon and tossed it to her. She leaped for it like for a Frisbee. Murphy had changed her order again.
From then on, Mitch didn’t bother with the crepe. He just produced a wad of turkey bacon for Murphy. But to Murphy, this system was not yet perfect; it still needed some tweaking. That is because dogs do not subscribe to the principle of delayed gratification. Mitch was taking too long getting her order ready, what with warming things up, tending first to customers in line, etc. During these intolerable delays, Murphy would pace and bark at him to hurry up. Mitch scurried to obey, like a henpecked husband, as customers laughed and pointed.
One day, en route to Mitch, Murphy barked at a pigeon. Because she is a hound, she has an extremely distinctive voice, less of a bark than a “roo.” In the distance, Mitch looked up and called out, “Murphy!” Murphy plunged ahead. By the time we reached his wagon, the meat was ready for her. You could practically see the light bulb go on. It was Archimedes in his bathwater.
So now, when Murphy and I are about 75 feet away from Mitch, she stops, sits and roos. If he doesn’t snap to attention and acknowledge her, she’ll roo again until he does. Only then do we move forward. Murphy no longer has to wait even a second for her turkey bacon.
I’m not sure what Murphy’s next move will be, but I have a suspicion. On our way to Mitch, we pass another wagon, selling Middle Eastern treats. I’ve noticed Murphy glancing back at it once or twice, nothing dramatic or decisive. But something’s being filed away in that brain, probably something like: “Mincemeat, yogurt, eggplant ... but no chutney, darn it.”