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Dream Rover

She toys with canine heart -- but whose is breaking?

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I love dogs. Who can resist their bottomless eyes; their alive, wet noses; their behinds that waggle at the slightest provocation; the way they look in a bandanna? I feel about dogs much the same way I do about men -- companionable creatures, with a knack for catching a Frisbee -- and if I were rich, I’d have a country house with about ten or twenty of them around at all times (the dogs, I mean), and I would toss steaks to them off the porch and watch them go wild with joy at our carefree existence. But alas, I’m a city dweller with responsibilities that preclude three trips a day into the concrete jungle to scoop up steaming poo. Maybe the truth is I’m not ready to commit, to wed my life to some wonderful dog’s. And so -- I confess -- I’m a dog adulterer. I use dogs, those warm, furry friends of unsuspecting neighbors and strangers. I’m not proud of it; I just can’t help myself.

It all started with a cute little bichon frise named Coco. I called her Happy Dog. What heart would not have been melted by the sight of her, fresh from the groomers and fluffy as goose down, gamboling around the lobby of our building: “Happy Dog! It’s you!” To simply kneel down before Coco was to be rained on with damp, urgent kisses. Her owner was a lovely gay man who always showed great patience as I lay sprawled across the lobby floor, transported by his animal companion. But then, sad day, they moved to Chicago, and I was despondent. Coco was really gone.

I took to lurking around the dog run at Washington Square Park in the hope of glimpsing some canine that could make me love again. The startling truth was (promiscuous me), I could imagine myself with every one of them; each had a special something that triggered my inner awww: the way he pranced, stick in his mouth; the way she lay, belly-down, peacefully licking paws; how a pack of them would tear around and around in a flash of legs and shiny fur . . . I found myself whiling away the afternoons like Humbert Humbert parked outside the Little Red Schoolhouse.

Until one day: “Uh -- which one is your dog?” I’d been found out. The owner of a Rottweiler the size of a small freezer was addressing me in the tones of a corrections officer. “I -- I don’t have a dog,” I confessed. “Then you’re not supposed to be here,” he hissed. “People who don’t have dogs don’t understand them. You might upset the dogs.”

After that, dog owners grew nimbuses. I’d see them walking their charges and wonder at their wise glow, that able- to-manage-living-in-New York-and- still-have-a-dog glow, exceeded in brightness only by the lighted crowns surrounding those with actual offspring, real children of their own. The dog owners seemed well aware of their higher state -- with what beatific pity they regarded me squatting to the sidewalk to nuzzle their Fidos! I began to ponder what it was about me that made me . . . dogless. Deep down, I knew I did “upset the dogs.” One look from me and the curs were straining at their leashes, their owners barking -- “Down, Jack, stop!” Was it because in me, dogs recognized a kindred spirit -- a creature with, shall we say, a certain lack of control, an animal who did not sleep at regular hours and who was likely to snatch French fries off someone’s plate, a girl who just wanted to have fun? “You can’t get a dog,” my friends sighed, adding delicately, “you’re not ready for a dog.”

Would I ever be ready? I wanted to know. I started dating a man because I loved his dog. I picked the two of them up in Central Park one day, me winking at Lucky as the man babbled on about his business on the Web or something. He was soon throwing me very dark looks as I whipped a mealy tennis ball across his apartment, mornings, giggling at all of Lucky’s corny old jokes (refusing to give the ball back, etc.). “Here’s your eggs,” he spat, my plate circling the table like a spinning quarter, Lucky’s Iam’s dish flung hard against the wall. “Do you love Lucky more than me?” the man finally asked. And had it been just a childish plea for reassurance, I would have lied, but I could only whisper, shame-faced, “Yes.” “He’s a lucky dog,” he said, with a sniffle.

“You’ll never see him again!” the man announced when the relationship fizzled soon after. But I couldn’t stay away from Lucky. I fell to wandering past the apartment just to catch a glimpse of the scruffy mutt whimpering down at me, clunky paws pushed up against the windowpane. “I still love ya, boy!” I mouthed from the street, waving. And then one day I spotted him -- Lucky, lashed to a parking meter while the man shopped in the Janovic Plaza for paint! Our reunion was glorious, but too short, as the man burst out of the store, brandishing heavy cans at me. I never saw Lucky again.

“You only love dogs you can’t have,” a girlfriend told me gently. “It’s classic avoidance of intimacy.” Textbook. I just thank God my cats don’t know about any of this. They’d kill me.


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