To Jennie -

With Love and Wet Kisses

by Paul E LaViolette

          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.

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