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CHRIS ERSKINE

A Dog Is Man's Most Grateful Friend

March 04, 1998|CHRIS ERSKINE

The dog and I are watching TV, one of those real-life cop shows where they arrest real people and dish out real justice.

In this segment, the police are pursuing a suspect under a house. Instead of crawling under the house themselves, the cops send in the police dogs, who really seem to enjoy chasing bad guys under houses.

"One of these days," I tell my cocker spaniel, "I'm taking you on a police raid."

This fills the fluffy little dog with excitement. He's watched a lot of these cop shows, seen a lot of police raids, but he's never seen a cocker spaniel chase a suspect under a house.

"Yep," I tell him, "I think the police could use a cocker spaniel like you."

The dog looks at me. This really pumps him up, hearing that one day he could become a police dog. He is so grateful, he is almost in tears.

"Hey, police dogs don't cry," I warn him.

Two years ago, the dog was a reject, an outcast puppy in need of a home. Neighbors offered him to us when he "didn't quite work out."

"We don't really need a dog," I told my wife at the time.

"Everybody needs a dog," she said.

In weeks, the dog and I became best buddies. Not just friends, but buddies, the kind of pals who can laugh about anything, especially each other.

And I soon found that he believes everything I say. One day I convince him I'm a cop. The next day, a neurosurgeon. He even believes I once played fullback for the Green Bay Packers.

"That Lombardi was a heck of a coach," I tell him. "And a darned good dancer as well."

He loves it when I tell stories about my football career. Can't get enough of them. He sits on my lap and looks up at me, encouraging me to tell him more.

"Really enjoyed the NFL," I tell him. "Might even make a comeback."

The dog's eyes get real big when I mention comeback. He'd like to see me play, would love to sit right here on the couch on Sunday afternoons and watch his 155-pound owner run the ball up the middle against the Chicago Bears, dragging gigantic defenders into the end zone.

"Dad, you spend too much time with that dog," my lovely and patient oldest daughter says, shaking her head in disbelief. "You treat him like . . . like a person."

My daughter is probably right. I do spend a lot of time with the dog. He's good company. Everything I do seems to interest him. When I stir my coffee he waits and watches, his head going round and round with each rotation of the spoon. One day he spent four hours just watching me make soup.

"This dog's grateful for every little thing," I tell her.

"And I'm not?" she asks.

There is a long pause. I try to think how to phrase my response. She's a good daughter. Lovely. Patient. And, generally, pretty darned grateful.

"Dad?"

"You're grateful," I say. "But not as grateful as he is."

The cocker spaniel is grateful in ways that kids seldom think of. He's grateful that there's always food in the house. He's grateful when the furnace kicks on in the middle of a chilly night. He's grateful when I accidentally drop a piece of bacon off the counter.

"I'm grateful, too," says the little red-haired girl.

"Me too," says her brother.

Suddenly, everybody in the house is grateful. I guess that's all you have to do sometimes is bring up the word "grateful," and sure enough, they'll all line up and nod their little heads.

"Yep, we're grateful," they'll say.

"I know you're all grateful," I assure them. "Everybody here is grateful. And I'm grateful for it."

As this fine display of gratitude comes to a close, I go to the closet and grab my old sweater.

The dog knows this is his cue, that when I grab my old sweater, it's time for our nightly walk, a stroll up the road, where I will entertain him with stories of cop life and the difficulties of performing an arterial bypass.

He stands by the door like a live mop, all jumpy and wiggly, doing a tap dance on the tile floor, hoping we're on our way to catch our first criminal.

"Want to come along?" I ask my patient and lovely oldest daughter.

"I don't know," she says.

"Oh, come on," I say. "We might catch a criminal."

The teenager looks at me. Then down at the dog. Apparently, the two of us look like a comedy act. Or at least a couple of guys in need of some decent company.

"I'll get my coat," she says.

*

* Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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