The Obamas have a dog! The Obamas have a dog! Quick: somebody should write a book about it.
You did? Already? In Iowa? But how - ? I know, Sasha’s allergies, but it could have been a Labradoodle – yes? – or a Cockapoo or a Doodleman Pinscher, or those wiry little bastards who are always shouting at your ankles, or the dog with the dreadlocks. I know, thank God.
So anyway: there’s this Portuguese Water Dog, and I guess he escapes from Hyannisport – right? - and he travels all over the world looking for somebody to love him, he meets Ridgebacks in Rhodesia, and Dingoes in Australia, and snobby dogs in France, then finally he sees in the paper where people are reading about calamitous recessions and stuff – he peers over someone’s shoulder and discovers the family in the White House is looking for someone just like him! And he visits, and he doesn’t even have to go slaloming through security or anything since he’s a fluffy little cutie after all, and not a terrorist booby trap, and he asks in his fluffy Porty voice, “Can you adopt me?” and the family in the slippers says, “Yes we - ”
Oh Jesus, what time is it? I’m sorry, I got up in the middle of the night, and forgot if I’d taken my Ambien, and here it is – what, ten hours later? – and it’s just I was having the weirdest damn dream. No, never mind. I’ll get you your Apple Jacks, okay? Just let me put my contacts in. I can’t read without my contact lenses. Anything. Pick anything. Wait, could you maybe - ? I’d love to read a book about a dog.
Why? Because I like dogs. Forget about their almost-humanness for a second; dogliness is the closest thing we have to Godliness on earth. Because they are the beautiful minds of the animal kingdom - they and dolphins - because they care when we are unhappy, no quid pro quos about it, and you can walk up to them in the middle of the sidewalk and stroke their ears and shake their heads, and you cannot do that with a dolphin, and if you did that with a child in my neighborhood they would probably bite you.
Because they’re smart, but also trusting. Because when you read about a dog having conversations with other dogs, and taking notes, and weighing their options, you think: that’s not so weird. Dogs smile, they mourn, they show patience, so is it really so inconceivable that if you gave them a voice box they would be having conversations about all manner of interesting subjects, and suffering generally from anxieties like Henry the Dog with No Tail, who envies the fancier equipment of his friends? Like the bossy little barker in No Room for Napoleon who overwhelms a perfectly good island with his oversize ambitions. Sound familiar? No, I’m asking you, dogs.
Moles, pigs, frogs, elephants and foxes all have their special, sometimes actionable, places in children’s literature. Of course there are also Kevin Henkes’s excellent mice, penguins are everywhere and charismatic, Rotten Ralph, a cat, is possibly the most entertaining animal in all of children’s literature, and Tim Egan can form a completely believable and sympathetic gang of would-be hooligans out of a rat, a raccoon, a gorilla, a goat and a walrus in The Blunder of the Rogues, yet the casting of a dog brings with it the historical advantages of our mutual empathy, and the perils of taking that for granted.
Never mind insulting my intelligence; please don’t insult theirs. If you are going to bring a dog to the party, in other words, they better be genuinely conflicted. Like the star struck poodle in Clementine in the City, who goes chasing after the typical showbiz fantasies, only to arrive at some realer, more complicated fulfillment.
Dogs wear heroism well, and they do modesty, like the eponymous Art Dog, a paint-splashing superhero by night, and a mild-mannered museum security guard by day.
Dogs love - the sort of instantly recognizable head-over-heals, jet-propelled, slobbery affection in Vivian Walsh’s Olive my Love.
And dogs die, so it is impossible not to try to invent a place where some little part of everything they gave us should continue to exist.