Body, Home, Street

Introducing Mani

This is dogging me. Now that we have a pup (14 months, actually) joining our two cats, our role in the world is changing fast. My Beloved and I are seen differently. We now number in the society of dog owners, as collegial and helpful, nipping and hypocritical, a group as humanity as a whole. So long as Mani lives with us, we belong, no resignation possible.

The dog lovers are as splintered as the opponents of George II’s Iraq War II. They’re as odd when packaged together as Wednesday’s nationwide Tax Day Tea Parties, whose factions are no more cohesive than the left’s. Hail, hail, the current impossibility of pack mentality.

Mani 041709
Mani 041709

What bringing Mani home has in common with action-factions is that my repulsion against people sticking onto my skin litmus strips of political correctness. I suspect the only people who pass are the rabid owners of rescue feral wolf mongrels. And they won’t be let into the dog park.

The breeder brought Mani to our Shady Hill manse on April 4. That’s right. He’s a purebred, a Tibetan terrier, selected first for being low-dander and low-shedding. He’s the right size for our size yard; we didn’t want toy size. The breed’s moderate energy level is about right. Being originally from Tibet also has resonance.

So later that week I’m walking him in a park and see a friend from grad school days. “You got him from a shelter, didn’t you?” No, I have a lot of mild allergies, though not dogs any longer — I got tested a year ago — but I need one that wouldn’t push my mold and pollen sensitivities over the snotty Tipping Point. No mutts, obviously, and mix-a-doodles aren’t reliably hypoallergenic. “So you went through a rescue group, then.” We made inquiries for months, but complications kept coming up. “Purebred with papers?” Yes, how else to be certain on the more-hair less-fur aspect?

I was dismissed with a sniff, before, fortunately, I was asked the last question on the canine litmus paper strip: Spaying. In the absence of the park showdown let’s make it public, anyway. We’re not neutering him for a few months because he has show qualities. The absence of leaves in the teabag would disqualify him. He may not have the personality for the ring, but MB wants to give it a shot to see.

Anti-elitist is just as elitist.

Tiki 041709
Tiki 041709
Rosemary 041709
Rosemary 041709

Cats don’t need PC questionnaires. Tiki and Rosemary started out wary, but in less than two weeks there are signs of hostilities ceasing. Mani is just curious, not at all aggressive, but they don’t trust it yet. We humans are cautious, too.

We’ve been reading all sorts of things on training. Positive reinforcement is the way to go. When these materials discuss cats, they agree with admiration: Cats have a natural gift at controlling puppies. None of these books admits that cats never use positive reinforcement on dogs. The hiss, growl, spit and slap do not encourage self-esteem.

After a couple of weeks, the contradiction disappears. The cat — Tiki is our pack’s alpha — applies the precise corrective. Almost no human can do that; we either go overboard or overthink punishments. And praise for that matter. Overdoing the negative is cruel and leaves permanent damage. Overdoing praise may delay training but otherwise it’s harmless. Still, we stand ready to separate Mani from the cats.

Another odd thing: Cat haters often tell us they don’t like how cats stare at one. (Isn’t it irritating how cat-a-phobes throw in their opinions with no provocation.) They look at you critically, one often hears. Tik and Rose — and their predecessors Champagne and B.C. — do stare at us, but it’s never made me feel uncomfortable. It’s because we are more interesting than anything shy of squirrels out the window, though that’s not saying much.

Mani looking at me, though, has produced scads of anxiety and guilt. Those eyes, those ears, that pouty mouth? He certainly is judging me. Why aren’t you playing with me? What do you mean you have things to do like check e-mail or pour your own cereal?

It’s a wonder anything gets done around here when I am begged continually to play, to walk, to simply hang out in the yard.

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