I like other people’s dogs, as I like most animals except deer ticks and Chihuahuas. I had a dog when I was kid, though it felt like part of my self-conscious striving to be an All-American Boy. Cats are my pet of choice, so babysitting my brother-in-law’s yellow Lab is an exercise in charity and patience. As I write, the dog lies on my feet under the desk, farting and snuffling, and the cat sleeps on the leather chair behind me, silent and self-contained – a ready-made illustration of my preference. I admire diffidence and dignity. Dogs are needy, cats don’t care. David Slavitt seems to agree in “Walking the Dog” (Rounding the Horn, 1978; collected in Change of Address: Poems New and Selected, 2005):
“A dog will sniff at bushes, newel posts,
a familiar ivy bed, track his own scent,
and lift his leg wherever it seems right
to sign his claim. In pride of place he boasts,
`My territory!’ And we pay our rent
and use the pot (until then, it’s not quite
home). I walk the dog at night and think
of spots he’s liked, his map of the good places.
He minds his cues and pees. `Good dog!’ I praise,
Uncomfortable. For us, smell turns to stink;
we are unhappy with our bodies’ traces.
He does his business. I avert my gaze,
who can’t return to my good places, shun
reminders that indict me, cannot say—
as I take him to be saying--`Life is fine!
I like it here.’ A cat, when she is done,
will cover it over and then go on her way,
fastidious, ashamed. Her way is mine.”
Mine, too. It’s the fawning of dogs I can’t take, the abject eagerness to please. It’s the same with people. “Don’t perform,” I want to say. “Forget about me. Be yourself.” It’s especially true of writers. When they work hard to ingratiate themselves, they become as repellent as those who work hard to offend. Both are dogs. Cats don’t care.