“There is no you,” Trent Reznor sang. “There is only me.” Trent is a self-absorbed individual who intuitively understood our first dog, Emma. The world was hers; she owned us, the house, the sidewalk, and whatever was on the sidewalk across the street. She wasn’t shy about informing you of these facts, either.
Emma won every battle she ever fought in her long life, even against opponents who didn’t know they were in a fight. The list of her vanquished foes includes dogs, cats, squeaky plastic cheeseburgers, teddy bears, two middle school boys on skateboards, a rake, a hose, and a harbor seal. She was a beautiful, loving dog who believed that deep inside she was actually a bone-crushing killdozer. This is why the album title that best explains Emma is Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine.
Most of our dogs have never reacted to music, except for “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction, which opens with a chorus of barking. But Emma enjoyed Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, and their Baroque contemporaries. She wouldn’t tolerate anything earlier or later. Chanting made her growl, and she had a particular dislike for the Seattle scene of the ’90s. Also for Pink Floyd. She loved to sleep under my desk, but when confronted with Screaming Trees or The Dark Side of the Moon, she’d pack up and go. Or release a defensive cloud of gas. When you own a dog you laugh every day, though sometimes it’s not until the next day.
Sailor’s superpower was love. He loved everyone he ever met. At a party he would blissfully move from lap to lap. He especially loved Emma. Emma put him on probation the moment she met him and kept him there. Since Sailor had a superpower, he had to have a kryptonite, and that was his belief that everything outdoors was edible. He ate everything he found on the beach. He ate everything he found at the park. He would’ve eaten kryptonite if it had held still long enough. Whatever he ate, he’d throw it up a few hours later and be ready to roll, except for the time that he swallowed a bone and had to visit a surgeon. (A friend asked, “When they cut him open, did all the sawdust fall out?”)
It’s easy to pick the album title that explains Sailor: Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction.
Sailor died young (not from something he ate). A month later, through a combination of events only slightly less complicated than the plot of Les Misérables, we rescued Teddy from a life on the street. He rewarded us by loving us like crazy. He went berserk with joy when visitors arrived and adored any uniformed member of the US Postal Service. Teddy was also a champion sleeper who could launch himself at his bed from three feet away and land curled up and conked out. He looked like a rhino compared to Emma, but he was so happy to have a home that he did whatever the aging Dark Knight wanted.
One thing they did exceptionally well together was bark. Emma in her prime was loud, but Teddy could make empty wine glasses ring. Together they could deafen you and disable your GPS. The album title that best captures Teddy is a greatest-hits collection: Blue Cheer’s Louder Than God.
The sad thing in any story about animals is that they die so soon. Little Cleo, who came from a puppy mill and who was rescued 10 or 12 years later on Christmas Eve by a woman who volunteers for Corgi Aid, didn’t last long with us. She had trouble with her hips; one of her back legs didn’t work well, and she ran on a diagonal. This had no dampening effect on her spirit. She had more joie de’vivre than most humans I’ve met. Paul Revere said it best: “I’m hungry for those good things baby/hungry through and through.”
But Cleo was much more than the lively dog who wouldn’t let me out of her sight and who believed that all the birds at our bird feeders had been sent by Alfred Hitchcock. She came to us at a very low point for me, when I was unemployed and uninspired, and though we had to put her down after only five months, she made a huge difference in my life. And that’s why I’ve chosen an album title for Cleo that is my message to her: A Tribe Called Quest’s final record, We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service.
Lucky invented the current use of the word “chill.” He has no abrasive personality traits or traumatic back story. Even when he was a puppy, he sought out anxious puppies at the playground and calmed them down. He’s an excellent teaching tool for preschoolers, patient and polite, but he’s also adept at diving into a pack of big running dogs and herding them – by running in the same direction they are already running. Lucky, who has been our Employee of the Month for 80 consecutive months, is a good-looking guy who is happy with himself and everyone else. Like Will Rogers, he never met a man or woman he didn’t like, particularly if they are carrying food. Picking an album title for him is simple: The Replacements’ Pleased to Meet Me.
I enjoy what I know of the symphonies of Felix Mendelssohn because he always seems to be crouched on the window ledge of hysteria. However languid the passage I’m listening to, I am confident that Felix is never more than a bassoon away from losing it.
Tango (my dog in the header image of this article), who is only two, has her languid moments, sleeping upside down and contentedly chewing cardboard boxes. That is, until a horn honks or a dog barks or a leaf falls. Then you realize that she shares Felix’s philosophy that life is dangerous and we’re all about to be eviscerated. The young women we meet on our walks can’t wait to get their hands on her, not knowing the hundreds of hours we’ve invested in trying to civilize this animal. Plus all the hours that Lucky has spent training Tango in self-defense. Therefore the album title that best describes Tango is Sleater-Kinney’s All Hands on the Bad One.
What album would my dogs choose for me? Do they see me as Snoop Dogg, Phife Dawg, or T-Bone Burnett? That’s one of the best things about dogs: They keep their opinions to themselves. Just keep that kibble coming. Which makes me think of Supertramp’s Breakfast in America.
Header image: Tango takes your drink order. All photos courtesy of the author.