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Take Three | Al Martinez

The Dog Is Still Evolving

June 27, 1997|Al Martinez

If it is true that the partnership between humans and dogs goes back 100,000 years, Neanderthal man must have had a terrible time keeping his dog from running off with the stoneware.

I reach that conclusion through less than scientific means by simply observing our new dog Barkley and occasionally having to chase him through the house cursing, a practice that primitive man may or may not have indulged in.

One would think that dogs and dog owners would have evolved beyond running and cursing, but I guess not, unless Barkley and I are throwbacks.

The fact that the relationship between dog and human dates back to the dawn of civilization was established in a recent worldwide study on molecular genetics led by a biologist at UCLA. You'd think they'd have better things to do than sit around pondering dog DNA, but who am I to challenge international academia?

FOR THE RECORD - AL MARTINEZ Right Dog, Wrong Dog By AL MARTINEZ
Los Angeles Times Friday July 4, 1997 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 2 Metro Desk 2 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Column; Correction
The dog pictured last Friday in my column about Barkley was not Barkley. It was a strange dog that wandered into our photo studio for reasons unknown and proclaimed itself a springer spaniel. He was not. He was a Labrador retriever. The black and white dog with the wistful look you see at left across from the impostor is the true Barkley, a springer spaniel. Barkley insisted on the correction, but we regret the error too.
--AL MARTINEZ
PHOTO: The black and white dog with the wistful look you see at left across from the impostor is the true Barkley, a springer spaniel.
PHOTO: (Labrador retriever)

I do see primitive traits in Barkley, a 9-month-old springer spaniel we acquired two months ago, but I also see modern instincts. For instance, I knew something was different about him when I noticed him walking around the house one day with my cellular phone in his mouth.

We said, "How cute! He's calling his agent," and "Talk about your Hollywood dogs!" and let it go at that. The phone was put out of Barkley's reach and the incident mentioned only at parties where people sit around and discuss their animals . . . gatherings, which, thank God, I rarely attend.

*

Then one day I was lying on the couch thinking with my eyes closed when I heard a chewing noise. It sounded peculiarly like paper being eaten.

I opened my eyes. Barkley was lying on the floor next to me eating a television script I had been working on for months. I shouted and chased him around the house until he tired of the game and left the script, now in shreds, under a table.

This time Barkley wasn't cute. This time he was a critic, and there's nothing cute about critics.

The thing is he's got these great big eyes and a manner of cocking his head and wagging his tail that melts my wife's heart, except for the day he chewed up her checkbook, during which Barkley's allure was seriously diminished.

I, however, have seen a lot of big eyes, cocked heads and wagging tails in my time and they no longer impress me.

"He's only a puppy," Cinelli said one day in a forgiving manner. It was not, by the way, the day he ate her checkbook, during which absolution was never mentioned. It was the day he ate my research.

Our fax machine is in a corner of my workroom and, during those times I am researching a column, it is in constant use transmitting material from our editorial library to my house.

On this particular day I was researching gun nuts, a species still evolving, though at a pace slightly more languid than a dog's. I heard the fax machine's phone ring and the sound of material being transmitted. And then I became aware of another sound.

I turned. As fast as the material emerged from my fax machine, Barkley was taking it sheet by sheet and chewing it up. I hollered, he ran, I chased, he barked, I cursed and he snuggled next to my wife, his eyes wide, his head cocked. She looked at me and said, "Don't you dare."

*

Before you come at me with shopping bags full of advice, let me say we have bought Barkley $200 worth of things to chew on that are supposed to fully engage his gnawing instincts the way cave bear bones once satisfied his less cultured ancestors. They don't work.

I have seen him hold both a toy and a book in his mouth at the same time, and somehow manage to destroy the book and preserve the toy in a display of dexterity no doubt rooted in the Upper Pleistocene.

We've put things out of his reach, but Barkley can get at almost anything short of ceiling lights. I measured him one day. He is 35 inches long from the tip of his nose to his behind. His hind legs are 12 inches long.

Those are not awesome measurements, but he utilizes them to stretch an incredible distance to reach to the middle of any table and get his teeth around whatever he's after.

My wife regards him as a New Age dog, due to his interest in phones and faxes, and she may be right. One day I found him sitting at my desk staring at the computer.

This has caused me to rethink Barkley's state of evolution. We're hiring a trainer who will teach him to sit and beg and heel and roll over, but guess who's going to be in there shouting, "Write!"

I believe that every dog deserves at least one column, and Barkley may have a lot more in him. You don't have to evolve that far to make a go of it.

Al Martinez can be reached online at al.martinez@latimes.com

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