I just posted a Turn the Page Book Review of Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes by Maria Goodavage. It’s a good read. Even if you’re not a true dog lover, you can’t help but be impressed and fascinated by the tremendous, courageous contributions dogs have made in the U.S. military going all the way back to World War I. But, not all dogs are created equal. Not all dogs are meant to serve in combat. Some seem ill-suited to do much more than lick themselves, bark insistently at nothing, and have accidents when things get a little too exciting. And that’s really where this blog post begins.
I am a dog owner now, and had dogs in my home throughout my entire childhood. With a couple exceptions, they all came from the pound or a shelter. They shared something else in common as well. They were all sweet, cute, lovable, gentle (insert other euphemisms for brain dead). I always felt sort of cheated when I saw someone else’s dog leap into the air to snag a Frisbee or go bounding after a tennis ball. My dogs couldn’t catch, couldn’t fetch, and generally weren’t bright enough to come in out of the rain. The dog I have now, a kind-hearted German Shepard mix (a lot more mix than German Shepard) named Mulligan, doesn’t have a Frisbee or a tennis ball. He doesn’t own any toys at all. He used to. We gave them away because, even as a puppy, he lacked both the energy and the initiative to play. However, when enticed by food and when no one is around to see him, he’s proven himself capable of incredible feats. Is his apparent lack of intelligence nothing but an act? Are all “dub dogs” a lot more clever than we give them credit for? It doesn’t seem likely… but I wonder.
I’m reminded of another dog my parents brought home when I was about ten. Her breed, according to the American Kennel Club, was officially listed somewhere between mutt and Heinz 57. She had the face of a beagle and the body of a small seal. Imagine a Christmas ham with eight-inch legs. This dog was not built for speed. She couldn’t catch. She couldn’t stand on her hind legs for more than a tenth of a second or so. She damn sure couldn’t jump. However, while the entire family was out of the house, this animal, after spending years showing no signs of intelligence, agility or ambition, somehow ended up on top of a very high dining room table where she proceeded to eat an entire lasagna. As I recall, one of her undersized legs was in a cast at the time because she’d wandered into some sort of animal trap. Not long after the lasagna caper, we came home and found this same dog, cast and all, standing on the roof. As far as we could discern, she’d climbed through a second story window. Remember the Christmas ham with legs? This dog could not climb. Yet, there she was, peering down at us like Snoopy doing his vulture bit. There were only two possibilities. Either the dog was far more able, physically and mentally, than we’d assumed, or, and this is the theory I’m going with, she’d been bitten by a radioactive hummingbird and developed the power to levitate. Believe me; of the two, that’s the more likely scenario. Here’s my proof of her overall ineptitude. We once tossed this dog a pancake. She could catch about as well as she could jump. The pancake hit her in the head… and stayed there. She couldn’t figure out how to get it off and, had we not taken pity on her, it might have become a permanent fixture. She might have possessed hidden super powers but she was still dumb as a stump. That proved to be her downfall. One of our neighbors used to give the dog scraps. He’d leave them on his back porch, and to get to his house, she’d walk the quarter mile right down the double yellow line. You’d think that, after getting hit by a car for the first time, she would learn her lesson. She didn’t. You can figure out the rest. But again, I might be selling the dog short. Her entirely predictable demise could have been an indication of yet another hidden talent. Where some dogs can be trained to sniff out IEDs., others would serve very effectively as suicide bombers