It recently dawned on me that the old cliché is indeed true: My best friend is a dog.
Sure, I used to have human friends, but over time they all either moved away, died, got boring, or did something inexcusably stupid that made me question why I was ever friends with them in the first place—you know, the kind of thing only humans do.
Not that my dog doesn’t do stupid things; he does. It’s just that when my dog does something stupid, it’s usually pretty funny. If he gets into the garbage while I’m away, the look of shame on his face when I come home is adorable. If he barks at a squirrel and then tries to chase it—well, how stupid is that? If he chews one of my wife’s shoes to pieces, his droopy doggy eyes will say, “What’s the big deal? There are dozens more where that came from,” and I have to laugh. Because it’s true. He could chew up a shoe a day for the next six months and barely make a dent in her shoe collection. I’d think it was funnier if shoes didn’t cost so much, but if it makes my little dog-friend happy, then it makes me happy too.
Isn’t that what friendship is all about?
The realization that my dog is far and away my best friend came to me rather suddenly, but in retrospect I can see that his dedication to me was constant; it was my human inability to appreciate his loyalty—to trust the sincerity of his affection—that prevented me from accepting his friendship for what it was: a true, deep kinship of spirit.
It seems silly now, but for a long time I had my doubts. For years, it seemed as if the only time my dog paid attention to me was when I was feeding him or giving him treats. As soon as he was done eating, he’d go back to ignoring me. If I forgot to feed him, he’d get ornery and act like missing a meal every now and then was the end of the world. And if I didn’t give him enough food off my dinner plate, he’d act like I was being stingy, as if I was asserting my human dominance over him, because I had this big tasty plate full of food and he had nothing but processed meat goo and a mountain of dry kibble.
In short, he was being selfish. It was all about him. I didn’t like that aspect of his personality, so I remained skeptical of his true motives. Sure, he’d bark and bounce around like a maniac when I came home from work, and he’d do his delirious dog dance when I took him for a walk. But those little performances always felt insincere, over the top. His responses were all out of proportion—he was ten times happier than he should be for the reward I was giving him—and it felt like he was mocking me. If I grabbed his leash and said, “Do you want to go for a walkie poo?,” he’d jump and bark in this conspicuously crazy way that seemed totally fake to me. Nobody could be that happy over a walk. They say dogs don’t do sarcasm, but mine did, I was pretty sure. In his little dog mind, I knew what he was thinking. He was thinking: “Oh goodie, do we get to go outside for fifteen minutes? Asshole. I’ve been locked up in this house for twelve hours. Fuck you.”
He wasn’t wrong, of course. The problem, I came to understand, was that I wasn’t giving him the respect he deserved. I was treating him like a dog, not like the friend he was, and that hurt his feelings. When he took a dump on my $5,000 Persian carpet, or puked on my Egyptian cotton sheets, it was his way of saying, “Hey, dipshit, I can be an asshole too.”
The friendship we share now was developed over time, and, unlike our previous relationship, is based on mutual trust and respect. My dog and I are equals now, two humble creatures trapped on this earthly plane, doomed to spend our lives seeking comfort, warmth, and solace in a cruel and unforgiving world. In fact, my dog is better than me in many respects. For one thing, he can run like the wind, despite his stubby legs. For another, he is completely true to himself. He doesn’t try to pretend he’s something he’s not, or that he isn’t feeling what he’s feeling. If he feels like taking a shit on the neighbor’s lawn, he doesn’t over-think it; he just does it, walks away, and never looks back. I respect that. (When I tried it, however, I had to explain to the police officer why I had not used my own toilet, a mere fifty feet away. In understanding the bond between dog and man, like so many other things, our society has a long way to go.)
They say you discover who your true friends are during difficult times, and that has certainly been the case with me and my dog. This past year has been a trying one, what with all the job stress, financial insecurity, health problems, deaths in the family and, most recently, a nationwide recall of Krusteaz blueberry pancake mix, my favorite. With each successive calamity, many people I considered friends fell by the wayside, unable or unwilling to extend the hand of friendship when it was needed most. But I am now grateful to these fair-weather “friends,” for their absence has clarified the identity of my true best friend. None of these people were there to offer comfort and support when my spirit was sinking and all hope seemed lost. At my lowest moments, the only living creature who remained by my side, through all the tears and wailing and madness, was my dog. (Well, my wife was there too, but she did not have nearly as much sympathy for me as my comfortingly non-verbal pooch.)
When my latest magnum opus was rejected by Random House for what the editors called an “idiotic premise” and “insufficient punctuation,” it was my dog who came to me, leash in mouth, as if to say, “Hey friend, let’s go for a walk.”
When my doctor called to tell me that all the tests had come back negative—that I was fine, and that, in his words, “medical science does not have a cure for what ails you”—it was my dog who sidled up to me, tongue lolling as if to say, “What do you say we go share a cone at Dairy Queen?”
When grief over the death of a loved one overtook me and my face was covered in tears, who came to lick away my pain? My dog, that’s who. Then, sensing my emotional fragility, he instinctively knew what I needed and urged me to accompany him to the dog park, where our other friends gather each day and are available to offer their support and good cheer.
Throughout all the strife and turmoil that drove lesser friends away, my dog has remained steadfast and true. Each day, as I pound my fists in anger and curse my fate on this godforsaken planet, my dog sits at my feet, a non-judgmental ball of calm in a perilous and turbulent world. Furthermore, I can talk to him for hours and he will listen patiently, unlike my restless human friends, who find it necessary to speak every now and then.
Our friendship continues to strengthen as the days and weeks roll by sans any other human interaction. Out of respect for each other, we no longer eat in different places; rather, I kneel and sup with him on the floor, at his level, where we can see eye to eye. One surprising note: His food does not taste as bad as you might expect. The canned food is made from “meat and vegetables” and is bathed in a savory gravy, while the kibble has a satisfying, toothsome crunch. Likewise, I have had my bed lowered so that he may enjoy night after night of restful sleep on a Serta pillowtop mattress, while my wife has graciously agreed to sleep at the foot of the bed, on a ratty slab of foam.
My dog and I now share most of our time together, and activities I once participated in with humans I now enjoy with him. We hike, we fish, we watch TV. We even play golf together. In fact, my scores have improved tremendously ever since I trained him to pick up the ball on the green and place it in the hole.
In these and many other ways, my dog has proven to be as enjoyable a companion as any human.
One area where he is surprisingly inept, however, is poker. All my life I have seen paintings of dogs playing poker, so I just assumed he knew the game. But as it turns out, he is the worst poker player I have ever seen. He can’t even hold the cards; I have to hold them for him. Which means he is also extremely easy to beat, a trait magnified by the fact that he constantly makes risky, ill-advised bets, as if money doesn’t mean anything to him.
Still, given the choice between spending time with a human or my dog, I am increasingly inclined to choose the latter. Why, just the other day we were headed out for a walk and my dog suddenly stopped at the door and looked up at me with an air of genuine distress.
The message in his eyes was unmistakable: “Shouldn’t we have a snack, first?”
“You’re right, we don’t want to get low blood sugar out there,” I replied, thanking him, and poured us each a handful of kibble.
Who else would put their desire for a walk on hold just to think about my blood sugar? Only my best friend, that’s who: My ever-loyal, ever-loving dog, without whom I would surely perish.