Quarrels with Dogs in the Dead of Night, Part II

My dog has tried to kill me on ninety-three occasions, and I'm not including that one time in Montreal because her heart just wasn't in it.

13 November 2013 | 11 Minutes

Don’t get me wrong - Chloé is not in the least bit bitey, and no doubt she considers violence too artless, pedestrian and vulgar for her tastes. No, creatures like Chloé don’t kill you with a lazy bite to the jugular - they prefer to draw it all out in a protracted campaign that results in you dying of a brain aneurysm.

Look, remember how I decided to take my dog camping? Let me tell you what happened next and you’ll see what I mean.

The drive up to New Hampshire from Cambridge was very pleasant for dog and man. We’d scabbed a lift with a friend who drives up there each weekend, and Chloé had seemed delighted by the journey and the autumnal foliage. Anyway, our driver eventually left us at the base of a mountain. I had my backpack, tent and a few days of food, etc and now here we were: Chloé sitting beside me, alone in the middle of nowhere, with lots of nature abounding about us in an overwhelming, show-offy sort of way.

“Remember your promise to be good,” I reminded her. Chloé looked at me blandly and went hopping up the trail ahead of me. We spent a few hours hours climbing three or four thousand feet or something until we eventually reached a clearing by a large lake where we made camp just before mid-day.

Sadly, I did not find a small party of Swedish co-eds camped by the lake; otherwise, I would have befriended them and spent the night by their campfire exchanging stories and laughing and drinking Finnish Vodka while they cuddled my dog and played guitar, and by midnight I would probably be invited to spend the night in the tent of two particularly adventurous girls named Inga and Svetlana, where I’d hopefully make such an impression that both girls would invite me to live in their apartment in Stockholm; Svetlana would be the firebrand editor of a far-left political journal, and Inga would be a lingerie model for some major European brand, and I’d spend the next four years forgetting about my misadventures as a Harvard staff-member, while trying not to die of sexual exhaustion. And I still think it’s a pity that this story didn’t pan out that way because Chloé would probably like Sweden, but that’s how my mind works: I’m always thinking about the well-being of my dog.

As I was saying, I had picked out a nice campsite near a copse of trees with a sweeping view of the lake, which gleamed like a silver mirror reflecting mountains and deepening sky.

That’s when I noticed Chloé was no longer with me.

I looked around me, I called out. And I called her name. And I called her name! And I called it over and over again, and then at last I spied her off in the distance, sitting primly atop a small rise by another copse of trees. I waved and cried and made threats, and she sat upon her lone hill like a hunched grotesque. I yelled and promised, yelled and blasphemed, and made assertions about dog biscuits - and all she did was pad about a bit in a small circle and then lie down where she’d been sitting. Whatever I was offering, she was having none of it.

Damn her eyes, I thought to myself, and began to set up the tent. It was a little like setting up IKEA furniture without a screwdriver or any instructions, but I managed it anyway, and secured Victory Conditions all by myself. A sense of accomplishment flooded through me, and once again I felt sad that no Swedish co-eds were camped nearby because I’d like to have been able to casually gesture in my tent’s direction and say: ‘See that? Pitched it myself.”

My dog, however, was still watching inscrutably from her hill, and had offered neither help nor encouragement. And she hadn’t, now I was thinking it, hurled even the slightest glance of pride in my direction. I began to finally feel that enough was enough.

“Oy! Come here now!” I yelled in a warning-ish sort of way.

Chloé counted to four - I know she can count to four because that’s just what she does before doing anything I ask - and then stood up and came padding down the hill towards me, taking her time as you would expect. At last she stopped about five meters away, sat down and, ensuring that we had eye contact, slowly turned her head over her shoulder and stared pointedly back at her hill where she’d been laying down, then back to my eyes.

It’s quite simple, of course. Chloé didn’t like my campsite, and was asking me to move the tent over to where she’d been sitting.

Look, I’m not an unreasonable man. It would have been the work of two minutes to move the campsite over to her prefered location, and then, of course, she’d have been happy. And I’m all about making Chloé happy - making her happy was kind of the reason we were both out here in the wilds of New Hampshire in the first place.

But experience has taught me to be extremely careful when it comes to establishing precedents around my dog, because she has always been especially attentive to precedents of any kind. I knew that, if I moved the campsite now, even for the noble reason of making her happy, then by the time we went back to Cambridge she’d have it in her head that she didn’t want to live in our house anymore. She would just, you know, go and sit across the road in front of someone else’s house, perhaps one that better suited her tastes. And I’d have to move over there or endure six months of insufferable behavior until some other opinion entered that dark, capricious mind of hers.

So what did I do? I made a cup of tea, which is what I always do whenever the situation allows, and Chloé went back to her hill. We sat and stared at each other for a while. I felt itchy and annoyed, I suppose, because it was a stupid situation really.

Chloé is half border collie and half chow-chow, which makes her a shimmering heap of shaggy black fur with a black tongue to match. Altogether she looks a little like a small black bear, and is so beautiful that I can’t take her anywhere without strangers approaching to ask questions about her ancestry and character. Then they pay her a lot of compliments and ruffle her coat in a way that I suspect quietly annoys her. Look, to be totally honest with you, some days I’m not even sure she’s a dog. She might be a magical being, but I don’t exactly go around saying that out loud because I have this painfully-earned reputation as a functioning member of society going for me now and I don’t like messing with that too much.

Now, before I interrupted myself, you’ll remember I was drinking a cup of tea. When finished, I flung the dregs of my cup into the fire and fetched my water-bottle, and noisily informed my dog across the way that I was going for a walk. She came down the hill and I poured some water into a bowl for her, and then off into the woods we went. Her tail was all swishy, her eyes were bright and I was just putting aside our differences when she came upon her first mushroom.

“Don’t!” I said in a loud, clear and unambiguous tone. “No. Bad. Very bad.”

Chloé was poised, frozen - she sniffed the mushroom, and her eyes shifted to me. Carefully she backed away from the mushroom and skipped ahead.

“Good girl,” I said. I like it when she’s being nice.

A few minutes later we found another patch of mushrooms. Chloé pounced on them.

“Don’t!” I said in a loud, clear and unambiguous tone.

But now, however, she already had one in her mouth. Her eyes shifted to me. Carefully she chewed and swallowed, then tilted her head rakishly at me, as if to say: ‘what’s your plan for dealing with that?’

“Bad girl!” I said. I was suddenly very worried: I couldn’t assess the toxicity of these mushrooms and didn’t want to be carrying my silly dog down a mountain to have her tummy pumped by veterinarians. I had every reason to worry, of course. I mean, there’s a reason I once spent an entire month referring to her as ‘The Girl Who Eats Bees.’

For the next hour, Chloé ran ahead of me on the track. When she came to a mushroom, she’d stop and loom over it, watching me approach. And I’d stop very still and say things like: ’leave it..! leave it!'

Her eyes and mine would be locked and I’d approach carefully, carefully and - just as I got within grasping distance of her collar - she’d suddenly gobble the mushroom and veer away from me at a run, thrilled about all things mushroomy, while I collapsed in the middle of the track cursing and flinging bits of mud about.

And in this way we proceeded our way along a wide, turning loop that brought us back to our campsite with only an hour of sunlight remaining. I threw myself down near the tent, exhausted and certain that I would never speak a kind or civil word with my dog ever again. She lay nearby on her side, a wolfish monster, her back towards me. I’m no mycologist, so I have no idea what kind of fungi my dog had been scoffing all afternoon but she seemed high as a kite to me. She just lay on her side, staring off into the horizon, I suppose, with that deranged, toothy smile of hers, while I lay beside her thinking: I’m not carrying you down the mountain in the dark - oh alright, yes, if I have to I will and it will probably kill us both, and curse your black heart…

I closed my eyes for a few minutes, and started to think about making dinner, which would involve fires and cooking and cleaning utensils. While I lay there, I felt Chloé snuffling about me. I reached up and put my arm over her back and rubbed her neck. What a lovely little creature she could be. She was feeling apologetic, no doubt. I opened my eyes and her face was inches from mine. And hanging out of her mouth like a cigarette was a mushroom.

We gazed into each others eyes. Then I lunged for her collar, dimly aware of a throaty roar erupting from my lungs, but she dodged me effortlessly and ran off towards her little hill across the glade, her bushy tail wagging delightedly, while I sprawled there on the grass, spitting and swearing.

When all was said and done, dog and I were not in our best moment. Chloé was happy, I suppose - she’d had a glorious afternoon, all things considered - but this mushroom business had worn me down. If, in that moment, some luckless dog-fancier had come passing by where I lay I’d have made every effort to give Chloé to the poor sap.

“She’s a good dog,” I’d lie, “but I’m dying of a game leg, and probably won’t last the night. It would mean the world to me to see her squared away in a respectable household before I go.”

I mean, there’s only so much a man can take. And if this seems unduly harsh then I put it to you that you have no experience with pure evil. Have you ever read that book Lives of the Saints? If so, do you recall any passage in that book about a saint owning a dog like mine? Of course you don’t - saints don’t own dogs like mine! Because you can’t own a dog like mine and wind up being considered a saint by anyone! The best case scenario is that you wind up owning a very dark postcard business (which, in my defense, seemed like the only recourse left open to me). In the worst case scenario? Well, I won’t speculate about that, because I am determined to prevent this from becoming a horror story.

Meanwhile, the sun is falling behind all those foreign-looking North-American trees (what are they called, pines? Oaks? Cedars or something?) and I was rousing and collecting myself - I had just enough time to make dinner in the waning light.

Look at my optimism, won’t you? Look at me diligently preparing food, thinking that the worst of the day was behind me. If I’d have known then what my dog was about to do to me I’d have run shrieking into the hills.

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