Get Me Out of Here
Hiking Bass Lake
rock climbing, I could use a little breather. So, I decide, this first snow morning, to take my family dog to one of the off-leash dog parks in town. But rest assured that even a simple walk like this one is not without its own special horrors: I see people I went to high school with around that area all the time.
Kiah is my family’s fourth dog overall and our third female Australian Shepherd. (The third dog, Oreo, a black-and-white lab and springer mix of some kind, was the beloved fluke we took home from the Humane Society, having gone “just to visit.”) I won’t go into her intelligence, because people talking about how smart their dogs are—so often incorrectly, too—is very nearly as bad as people talking about their brilliant, brand-new infants. Listen, almost all of us could talk by two. Almost all of us memorized the alphabet fairly early on. We were little babies; what else was there to do? But Kiah is very smart.
She is also the weirdest dog I’ve ever met, and not just because she wiggles her back half (not her tail area, but her whole back half) so strongly while walking that she can only ever get anywhere diagonally. Kiah has, from the beginning, loved to fight. Not seriously (she doesn’t appear to be out for blood), but neither is it totally not-serious. Unlike any other dog we’ve had, she fully leaps off the ground at other dogs (or people, doesn’t matter) when she wants to wrestle. She commits. Overall, she seems to prefer being airborne.
It is therefore unsurprising that before I open the back door of my car, Kiah has started jumping out of it. She lands on the ice-coated parking-lot asphalt and slides a few feet before regaining composure, looking back, presumably, to see if I noticed. I did, but for her sake I pretend like I didn’t. Once we’re inside the gate, I take off her leash, and she’s off again, jumping.
There aren’t many other creatures here today, canine or human, but those we do see, Kiah leaps at. There is a German Shepherd, whom she outruns, and a beagle, who seems to bore her. The other dogs don’t seem very “into” the idea of wrestling today—they seem lethargic, as if its taking them some time to adjust to the sudden cold and the slippery ground. Still, they don’t seem too bothered when Kiah keeps trying. I always wonder, in the midst of these attempted battles, how each dog decides that the other dog is mostly only joking about all the biting. How did they come to decide it was fun and not inappropriate or weird to jump all over the stranger dogs they encounter in public? When my ferocious small dog finally lied down in the snow in deference to an enormous black Lab with a three-foot-long stick in his mouth, was it because she was scared? Or was I right in thinking she looked a little bit ... suggestive?
Perhaps I am anthropomorphizing her too greatly, but how do you not?
THERE IS THIS SORT of sad, free zoo in Saint Paul that Rylee and I went to last summer, and we stood for half-an-hour in front of the chimpanzee exhibit, watching through Plexiglas as a mom chimp teased and hugged her chimp son. There was a loose, flappy canvas bag he clearly loved, and his mom kept putting it over his face, running away to hide, and waiting for him to find her again. When he did, he’d climb in her lap, and she’d tickle him. “Exactly like us,” you’d have thought, “just furrier or scalier humans after all, every last animal there is. Geniuses, every one. Just like us.”
But there, the next display over, sat the old male gorilla, reclining on a boulder, leaning on his elbow, scooping a large puddle of vomit off the rock and into his mouth. Then swallowing it, vomiting, and then eating it again. So it’s hard to say. I suppose they are individuals, just like the rest of us, but I don’t pretend to understand the world around me. I only pretend, once in a while, to control it.
Katie Heaney is a writer based in Minneapolis. She has a memoir coming out in early 2014.