In the Company of Dogs

Cassie-and-verbena

Cassie and I awoke to a spectacular dawn, the outside air in the 70s. So beautiful was it that nothing would do but what we had to race outside for a long walk around the neighborhood and park. It was a cool and lovely morning, a few foggy-looking clouds floating in the distance, very San Diego.

Recently I made the happy discovery that Cassie does not have to be on a lead. She wants to stick close to the human, she comes when called and stops when asked, she never darts into the street, and she rarely chases birds or cats. When it’s quiet and there’s little traffic, when we’re out early enough or late enough to dodge the other dog-walkers, we can brazenly flout the law and stroll around as friends, not as slave and mistress.

In my lifetime I’ve had only one other dog who could be trusted off the leash, Greta the Genius German Shepherd. She was an amazing dog, a dog that attained true Greatness (she saved my son’s life, rescued me from a rapist, and unlike Anna the Ger-Shep, who only thought she could understand English, Greta indeed did understand human conversation).

Walking with a dog is a very different experience from walking a dog on a leash. It’s the difference between walking with a companion and wrangling an animal, as one does in riding a horse. When you have a dog that you can trust in this way, you begin to understand why people insist on letting their pets off the leash in the city park, come Hell or high water. It really does add a great deal of pleasure to the dog-human relationship.

Rosy-faced lovebird

While we were strolling around, we spotted a pair of small parrots or lorikeets flying free. They looked very much like this bird. Could’ve been a little larger, but the coloration was very similar.

Well, of course one thinks either “dead birds! What ninny brought these creatures here in the first place and then let them escape?” or “invasive species! Say good-bye to the mockingbirds, towhees, doves, quail, and every other native species around here!”

It’s probably not likely that the pair will survive for long. But one never knows. In fact, the low desert once was home to vast numbers of parrots. The thick-billed parrot inhabited the Sonoran desert and extended from central Mexico all across southern Arizona and up onto the Mogollon Rim. They were exterminated in Arizona and northern Mexico, largely by hunters. South of the border they were shot for food; north of the border, for the hell of it. Between the overhunting and the habitat destruction, they almost went extinct.

Some years ago, a few ambitious environmentalists tried to reintroduce the thick-bill to southern Arizona, an effort that ended in a Fail. Entrenched predators (humans included) quickly picked them off. At any rate, once upon a time the Sonoran desert hosted parrots, and so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that escaped birds could establish themselves and form feral populations. The rosy-faced lovebird, if that’s what we saw, is an arid-land native, hailing from Namibia, a far harsher environment than ours.

Because the corgi holds its head upright and its eyes are toward the front, Cassie seems to see into the air and overhead better than many other dogs. She notices birds and loves to chase them around. She definitely noticed the two parrots, whose call stood out from the busy birdsong that made for our background music, and watched with interest as they flew around the African sumac and palm trees.

Peacock

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We ambled into the rich folks’ territory and paid a visit to the estate-sized lot that used to harbor a gaggle of peacocks.  The human who owns the place has so many trees and giant shrubs growing, it’s dark and shady as a grotto beyond the wall. Alas, he’s never replaced the birds that were picked off by the coyotes, probably much to the neighbors’ relief. Peacocks make a loud and ridiculous noise, a sound many people find grating.

I rather like the crow of a peacock. More flamboyant than a rooster’s, it brings to mind exotic locales like Myanmar and India.

And I do love the sound of an ordinary rooster’s crowing. Because the neighborhood still has several horse properties, some people do have flocks of chickens—you’re allowed to keep a cock if you own a horse property, which the county and city regard as agricultural land. So if Cassie and I get out early enough, we can hear the proud and arrogant call of the master of a henhouse, trumpeting up the sun as the Indians drum it down at sunset.

The rooster conjures up some exotic locales for me, too. When I was a little girl, long before the ongoing rounds of war in Lebanon began, we spent one of my father’s short leaves at their friends’ home in Beirut.

You can’t imagine how beautiful Beirut was, a gem on the Mediterranean, where the beaches were made not of sand but of tiny, smooth, jewel-like stones. My father spent his short leaves either in Bahrein, which at the time was comparable to…oh, say Tijuana or Nogales, or in Beirut, a truly magnificent place. Once we stayed in a hotel. But the visit that stays with me came when we took up two weeks’ residence with my former third-grade teacher and her new husband, one of the geologists who had been with Aramco since before World War II. This pair lived in the city, not in some American ghetto, and their friends were Lebanese of all social classes.

One of the most vivid memories of my childhood is awaking in the early violet pre-dawn to the sound of donkeys’ hooves clip-clopping up the cobbled street in front of the house. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, the sun snuck up on the morning and told the roosters it was time to wake the world. A symphony of cocks’ crows arose in the distance, quite a bracing and refreshing sound. It made me, a rather sad and withdrawn child, want to get up and greet the day.

Well. So, from the former peacock orchard it was on to the park, which by the time we got there was overrun by dog lovers. I’m not an aficionado of dog parks—which our park is not, even though people from surrounding neighborhoods bring their animals every Saturday and Sunday morning and let them run loose. So, Cassie was on the leash most of the time, unless we were pretty much out of the way of large frolicking descendants of wolves masquerading as foolish humans’ “babies.” Some of these people—oh, let’s generalize and say all of the ninnies—make “self-centered” a religion. One old buzzard, with a big black chow whose fur had been shaved into a poodle cut (no joke!), saw me and Cassie making for our favorite bench and unabashedly hurried to get there first and plop himself down on it.

As soon as we walked past, he got up and left, having shown that he could do it. He probably drives like that, too.

By then Cassie was getting thirsty. After she finished off the water in the mug I was carrying and then consumed half a refill from the plugged-up park drinking fountain, we decided to head home. The sun had already been up too long, too many humans were abroad, and we were hungry.

Cassie-off-leash

Images:

Peach-faced lovebird, Peter Békési, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Indian peacock, BS Thurner Hof, GNU Free Documentation License.

This essay is not an endorsement of letting your dog run free or walking your dog off the leash. Both of these put your dog, other people’s pets and children, and you at risk. In general, your dog should be on a lead whenever it is outside your home or your yard.

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Carrie June 12, 2010 at 3:43 pm

we’ve got an invasive flock of amazon parrots in my neighborhood (which might be what you saw also). at first i thought they were pretty cool but when you’ve got 100 parrots squawking in the tree outside your bedroom window at 6am it suddenly becomes really annoying.

Jackie June 12, 2010 at 9:42 pm

What a nice walk! (and it is soooo nice outside)

I used to have a border collie who would walk with me like that. She would see a jack rabbit and look at me like “Is it ok?” and when I said yes she’d be off like a shot. Of course she never even came close to catching them, but she had fun :)

Victoria June 13, 2010 at 2:14 pm

I love that adorable picture of Cassie walking down the street. I lived in San Diego for 2 years when I went to grad school. What a beautiful place to live!

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff June 16, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Thank you for taking me with you on your walk…it was relaxing just to read about it. :-)

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