Caper is not a fan of plastic bags. He abhors the vacuum cleaner. He would rather do anything, anything, anything than have to walk through a puddle.
He also reads minds. He knows that I’m getting off the couch half a second before I decide to, can smell an argument coming hours in advance, and puts on his fiercest face when we encounter a stranger who makes me suspicious on a walk. If I love you, he loves you. If you make me nervous, he’ll watch and wait. He communicates with an unflinching, unapologetic stare: “Wake up.” “Outside.” “Food yes.” “Stop that.” He doesn’t chew on things unless those things are candles; he doesn’t bark, or bite, or cower. His home is defined simply by his proximity to his people – he sleeps in tents, wanders through festivals, tolerates sand.
The night we slept outside in the woods, he watched and waited and tracked each squirrel until I created just enough space under my neck for him to hide his head and snore.
He knows sit, stay, high five, come, down, and dance. He also knows not right now, go to your bed, is daddy home, walk, sorry baby, what happened, snuggle, sleep in a pile, dogs don’t like bacon, and who’s the best kid.
His biggest vice is his deep and abiding love for the bathroom trash can, a love so powerful that it simply cannot be contained if the door is left open while we’re away. I know we’ve failed him when I come home to find him on a self-enforced timeout in his farthest away bed in the corner, the safest distance from the telltale shreds of toilet paper and tampon wrappers I’ll find in the hall.
With no fingers for ring wearing, he has developed mood ears. Up for yes, horizontal for bored or indifferent, flat for uncontainable, suspense filled joy. He’ll answer you if you ask him a question he knows.
He’s one of the more reasonable persons I’ve encountered. Uncomfortable, he’ll move – bored, he’ll sleep, curious, he’ll observe. He can wait for hours for a crumb to fall. He’s patient, and careful, and always, always aware.
Food is the great love of his life. I’d like to pretend it’s me, and though I come in a strong second, if a steak and I were drowning, I’m the one he’d let sink.
Formosan Mountain dogs, or Taiwan dogs as they’re more commonly called, are an intriguing sort. I didn’t know what I was signing up for when I first saw my all-ears puppy on Petfinder with his comically oversized collar and goofy grin – only that I was his. Our first months were a tangle of miscommunications – his fearful aloofness, my zealous attention, the unreadable Mandarin medical records in the hands of his befuddled veterinarian. He would stare at me for hours but refuse to be snuggled for more than a moment. I would throw a ball and he would raise his eyebrows sarcastically in my general direction. I’d beg and beg for him to hop up onto the bed with me at night, and he would curl in a tight circle in his crate, preferring to rest undisturbed by my presence and the possibility of my movement.
As instantly as his ownership of me had been established, mine of him would take months, maybe years, of changing my understanding of “dog.” Caper’s inner monologue is something decisively more complex and amusingly more cynical than “Ball! Play! Master! Run! Chase!” I’ve never doubted for a moment that he thinks in full sentences. He watches, assesses, judges, and considers. He can learn any trick you’d like to teach him, if he understands why exactly it is he should. He is not one for entertaining whims or suffering small children.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, my independent little guy morphed into another someone entirely – someone who loves little so much as he loves a good snuggle, who greets strangers with a sweet lick to the hand, who prefers to sleep nestled between Fave and I in a pack pile. Once ferrel, he’s become a dog who doesn’t need a leash, who would rather be with me than away – who escapes an open gate in the backyard and proceeds to sit silently for Godknowshowlong at the front door, tail wagging when his panicked person finally opens it. He’s the dog our friends love to dog sit… the one I never worry about. He’s lived in the country and the city and been generally wherever I am for 8 years now.
This baby that’s coming will change him again, from my one and only kid into the family dog. I’m not worried for him, really, as I’ve seen how willingly he will accept and love whatever I value. I’m as sure that this little girl will transform him into a dog who lets his ears be tugged and sneaks playful baby kisses as I am that the trash will be strewn about the hallway if I leave that dang bathroom door open.
I am sure he will, because he and I are each other’s, as sappy as that sounds. I’ve had dogs all my life, but this one is mine – the one who taught me what commitment means, how natural and easy it is to take care of someone you love, how much better life can be when you share it, how good a hamburger really is. He’s a good kid, this kid.
How blessed we are.