Yesterday I went to Waveland Elementary School to talk to
some third grade students.
Their teacher had read several of my columns to her class
and, since the children seemed to enjoy them, she had asked me to come and
talk to them. When I asked her what should I talk about, she said about what
it is like to be a writer and the work that is involved in writing.
I know newscasters, weather people, police officers and the like
do this all the time, but this would be completely new to me. So, when I said
that I would come, I said it with a certain amount of trepidation. First of all,
while I do write these columns and have written two non-fiction books, I am
basically a scientific writer. I felt sure that anything I would say would put
the class of nine-year old children to sleep in less time then the thirty
minutes that she suggested my talk should last.
I decided that I needed a gimmick, something flashy.
As I thought this, I happened to look down and there by my desk
was Jennie, sound asleep. I smiled; she would do. I reached down and patted her
rump. Her eyes opened for a brief second and she stared at me. Then, satisfied
that I wasn't getting up to fix her lunch, she closed her eyes and disappeared
back into the land where squirrels can be caught and cats do what they are told.
There are many learned treatises on the relationship of humans
to dogs. These studies point out that we often mistakenly attribute many of the
human-like actions of our dogs to their association with us, that this
association has somehow, endowed them with some human spark. "Did I tell you
what little Rover did yesterday?" is probably the most overworked sentence in a
dog owner's vocabulary.
The truth, say the studies, is just the opposite. Those
faithful and loving dogs that we treasure so much, far from thinking themselves
human, think of each of us as another dog! A nice dog, a rather large dog, and
at times, until trained, a rather silly dog, but still a dog.
All this is based on years and years of study and has been
published in a number of scientific peer-reviewed journals. I'm sure that they
have good reasons for writing all this and I'm willing to give them their due.
However, Jennie is eleven years old and has been with me ten of these eleven
years. Since a decade is much longer and more quantitative than some vague
"years and years," I believe I have a better handle on the human / dog
relationship than those academic studies.
Jennie and my visit to the class is a good case in point.
My visit took place in the school library. I was there first
and had Jennie on a training collar and leash. It's been years since she had her
training, but she remembers it very well. She sat, therefore, reasonably still,
watching as approximately thirty children filed into the room. I haven't been
around young children for a long time and was amazed at the orderly way that
they sat in a square on the rug in the center of the room and sat quietly
staring back at Jennie and me.
I was on. Trying not to wave my arms too much (I had Jennie's
leash in my hand), I began my talk.
It went reasonably well. They were a good audience and I found
I could speak rather freely without having to talk down to my young audience. I
spoke about writing in general and what it takes to write. After a bit, as an
example, I read aloud a column that was to appear in the next week's paper. The
column was about Weimeraners and I pointed to the patiently-sitting Jennie to
emphasize various points. Patient, that is, for Jennie. She would get up, turn
in a circle and sit down and get up and repeat the process about every three
minutes. My reading was sprinkled with a running cadence of "sit Jennie's," but
all in all, she was quiet.
Then after the class had asked me and I had answered a number
of rather surprisingly pertinent questions, I realized my talk was almost over.
I decided to close it with a bang. I bent down and unsnapped Jennie's leash.
Whoosh!! Jennie was up and leaped at the surprised square of
children. Dropping her head down like she was burrowing under a rug, she plowed
into them. The children in turn, squealed and tried to bury Jennie under a mass
of their bodies. Jennie twisted and squirmed and breaking loose, ran a circle
about where I sat and then plunged from another angle into the children's
square, producing the same result of screaming, laughing, grabbing children. It
was pandemonium and, what was nice, it was our pandemonium.
We did this several times and then it was time to leave. The
children, once again quiet, filed orderly out of the room while Jennie
restrained by the training leash sat watching them, her tongue hanging out and
her head cocked appreciatively to one side. The teachers thanked me and putting
Jennie and my material in my car, I drove home.
As we drove, Jennie sat still, a pose she always assumes in the
car or truck. Still I could see that she was still excited and would restlessly
lift a paw and put it back down or glance over at me and then back out the side
window. Up paw, down paw, look right, look left. Finally, she couldn't stand it
any more and standing up, she reached over and gave me a big slobbering lick. I
had to stop the car. The car behind me honked, but I didn’t care.
Explain that in your peer-review journals.