Friday, May 20, 2005

Dog Days Of Summer

To call it a "trick" would have been a disservice to our dog, Dickens. Certainly, the neighbors must have thought it quite clever however, when our 10-year-old bearded collie would prance down the driveway and retrieve the morning newspaper.

I preferred to think of it as allowing him to earn his keep. Of course, if given the chance, I’m sure Dickens would have explained it quite clearly for what it truly was - an obvious excuse for me not to have to dash out in front of the neighbors in my morning garb.

Like it or not, Dickens made it part of our weekend routine. In exchange for me allowing him to water the lawn and sniff the morning fragrance, he would find a way to put his mouth around the plastic bag that held the headlines of the day.

Not to say that this was an automatic gesture on his behalf – there was always at least one chorus of "The paper, Dickens…get the PAPER!" and an occasional re-direction from whatever distraction that might come his way. A passing runner, another dog or an abandoned gumdrop melted into the sidewalk were all potential candidates and a reasonable excuse to forget the task at hand.

Sundays could provide a different challenge altogether. Whoever came up with the idea to insert product samples into a bag that already held a newspaper 6 times the daily fill, certainly didn’t have this poor dog in mind. Undaunted, he would study it…smell it…push it….and eventually walk away from it. "The paper, Dickens…get the PAPER!" You could almost hear him growling something about big butt, snow and yourself from the doorway.

To his credit, there wasn’t a paper he didn’t eventually tackle. He sometimes didn’t get it all the way inside the house; but he was always able to get it far enough up the driveway that I knew I wasn’t going to be horribly embarrassed by my appearance.

His younger brother Bailey eventually joined him in this drill. It’s important to note that, to this day, Bailey has probably never been given his due. Since his first day home, he’s had Dickens to watch, follow, pester, love and adulate, but not necessarily emulate. Bailey has always been happy to tag along. And, on the morning pursuit of the paper, Dickens and Bailey would dash out the door to face the elements together. If the neighbors had a laugh at the sight of one dog pulling the paper, they had to be in stitches to see these two mops of hair bounding down the lane.

Needless to say, Bailey was able to mimic virtually every move that Dickens would unveil – except for one. Whether there was some unspoken language between the two dogs or just pure avoidance on behalf of Bailey, the task of finding the right grip on the plastic bag always fell on Dickens.

"The paper, Dickens…get the PAPER!"

The reward of two dog biscuits became a daily ritual…even during the week when my departure for work came before the paper arrived. Each dog would happily wait for the door to open and embark on nature’s call and, depending on what kind of weather they faced, would either race to get back in or doddle and sniff to their heart’s content. And paper, or no paper, they knew a treat was in store.

When Dickens died yesterday morning, I’m quite sure whatever news the paper held that day…would wait.