Originally published in the Superior Catholic Herald, November 12, 2009
Last weekend at my Duluth boring kennel, my cellmates greeted me, “Hey, Goat Man.” Apparently they read the Catholic Herald on that side of the river too! The story about the lopsided Gorilla Glue Goatee got them all excited — thus “Goat Man.” I said I have trouble with being given the high honor of the name “Man” — would you please call me “Goat Dog!” They all laughed.
But the conversation went from my lopsided goatee to my curlicue tail. Up until last weekend I never thought of my tail as looking all that funny, but they seemed to think so. They said I have the tail of Nikko, the leading flying monkey in the movie Wizard of Oz. Never having seen the movie, I’m not sure what Nikko’s tail looks like. I do know my tail curls in the same way my hair does, but since it’s the only tail I’ve ever known it seems nothing but normal to me.
The talk of my tail then led to some talk about other dogs’ tails. I asked my cellmates if they ever noticed how much information you can gather about a dog by their tail. They all had noticed. They agree that a happy dog wags her tail to let you know she’s happy. A frightened or shy dog puts his tail between his legs to tell you that that is the way he is feeling. An angry dog holds its tail as straight as an arrow, as if it’s ready for the strike.
I was then thinking about these ready-to-strike dogs. I haven’t met many of them in my 10 months of life, but I do know that there are some nasty, mean-spirited dogs out there. I greet them with my wagging tail and they put theirs out straight. Then they do the strangest things with their ears, mouths and fur. Their ears go flat back. They begin to expose every one of their big, usually yellow and brown-encrusted teeth — which if that doesn’t make you think twice about being their friend, their breath certainly will.
However, the strangest thing of all about these not-so-friendly dogs is their hair. I don’t know how they do it, but a normally smooth coat of fur, suddenly turns into an upright mohawk. It’s an amazing show of aggression that certainly makes a point.
After my kennel time, I talked to my Bishop about aggressive dogs. I asked him, “Why is it that I can walk up to most dogs with my tail wagging and we look like a twin propped Cessna ready to take off, but other dogs, (thank goodness they’re few in number), respond with the arrow tail, flat eared, toothy foul-breathed snarl with mohawk coifed back?”
He simply said, “It’s most likely a learned response, based on an inability to trust, which has been caused by some past hurt.”
“Oh”, I said.
On further reflection, I was thinking what a sad way to live one’s life. A dog’s life is meant to be a good life. I love my life as a dog. I wouldn’t want to live my whole life in fear and/or aggression. Never to trust would be to never have fun, never to be happy, never to have a wagging tail — how sad that would be? I wonder if the aggressive types can ever change? I’ll ask the Bishop that question some other time. Lately, he seems a bit pre-occupied with having to give interviews to TV stations and newspapers.
Actually, I can tell you something he did last week that kind of got my tail wagging. Two reporters approached him after Mass one day and asked if they could interview him for a news story. He agreed, but said that he first must let the dog out of the back of the Jeep kennel (for I had been in there for a couple of hours and he knew I needed a break). Before he opened the tailgate he asked the reporter and the cameraman if they liked Dobermans. They were slow to respond and began to move away from the car. Once they saw me, they laughed and began to breathe again. Up until the point of actually seeing me, if these two humans had had tails, I’m sure they would have been between their legs!
In closing, however, I do feel a need to say a good word to my canine Doberman friends (I have met some of you at the boring kennel). Unfortunately the behavior of a few of your types has given the rest of you a bad wrap. I know you’re the same as the rest of us; you too are man’s best friend. Don’t let the aggressive types get you down.
Next month, if my editor will allow it, I would like to spend less time writing and more time showing you what I look like. I’m especially interested in your thoughts about my goatee and newly named “Nikko” tail. After that maybe I can ask if you think I should be called “Goat Dog?”
Until then, take a Bow and a Wow to God,