Dog Math

Two is always greater than one. Always. Basic mathematical principle universally understood. Apples. Kisses. Dollars. World Series baseball tickets. It doesn’t matter. Having two of something, anything, is always better than having just one.

Yet I’ve been rethinking my math lately since we brought two new dogs home to Atascadero. Tanner and Charles Foster Kanine (Charlie) have been with us since early February. Two dogs. Two months. Too soon. Too much. I watch and listen to this overly dynamic duo bounce around the new house, playing some combination of dog ice hockey and rugby and wonder.

What were we thinking when we decided on a pair of new dogs?

And I gaze forlornly at the solitary photograph hanging in our foyer. When I see Topper’s familiar gaze, I remember. Two is not always greater than one. Especially not the one in this case.

Charlie, the stocky basset hound, certainly tries. My, how he does try. After two months together, I can safely report this: A basset hound is not a dog. He’s a four-legged teddy bear, in constant need of a hug. From the moment I wake up in the morning, to the time I fall asleep at night, I apparently have one overriding mission in life. Hug Charlie. That’s it.

Charlie follows me constantly throughout the house, like some kind of celebrity stalker. If I sit, he sits; usually by pouncing on my lap. If I spend more than ten minutes on the computer, he wanders over and nudges underneath my right arm with his snout. Time for a hug, Dave. Hug me, please. Hug me, or I’ll drool all over your computer.

What a lover. I swear this dog was Rudolph Valentino in a previous life.

Driving anywhere with Charlie is impossible. Most dogs automatically jump up into a car or truck. Not Charlie. No, he has to race around the truck one-two-three times first, no doubt performing some ancient basset hound ritual that protects him from my erratic driving. Even when we’re both finally inside the car together, I still can’t budge because Charlie has nuzzled up next to me–you guessed it–wanting another big hug.

Tanner, the young brown-and-white mixed breed, tries too. I call him Good Will Tanner after that Robin Williams movie about the troubled kid who’s also a math genius. That’s Tanner. Fastest dog I’ve ever seen. Smart as Einstein. Snags a tennis ball in his mouth with the grace of Willie Mays.

But he’s trouble through and through. Gets into fights. Barks up a storm. Easily becomes jealous. Tough-guy attitude. A cigarette should be dangling out of his mouth instead of a chew stick. This guy would be Jimmy Cagney in a previous life–You, you dirty cat.

I’ve read accounts over the years where people who experienced sudden loss immediately went out and remarried or began other new intense relationships. Sometimes it works. Often times, it doesn’t. The situation is never easy because the new folks are always dealing with that memory, unfairly being compared to what came before.

As it has been with Charlie and Tanner. They’re both good dogs, such very good dogs. We’re lucky and grateful to have them. But that wasn’t enough for me initially. I’ve been distant. Overly strict. Far too demanding–punishing these new companions for something they had no control over, something awful that happened even before they ever came along.

That attitude changed early last week. I’m unable to pinpoint the exact moment of my epiphany, but this I know and finally accept. Charlie and Tanner are about as far away from Topper as the moon. That will always be. We’re about to spend the next decade or so together with me donning a variety of hats: Trainer. Referee. Coach. Teacher. Medic. Guardian. Provider. Driver. Progress will be slow, but (hopefully) steady.

There are continued moments of melancholy around Topper’s photo in the foyer, but Charlie and Tanner are slowly forcing me to recalculate my math. After all, they’re not trying to prove that two is always greater than one. Just not less than.

Equal. That’s all, Dave. Equal.

San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune (April 1998)

Published by Dave Congalton

Writer. Radio Host. Screenwriter. Enjoying the Good Life on California's Central Coast.

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