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What a Difference a Dog Mages: Big Lessons on Life, Love, and Healing from a Small Pooch


Or, the Curious Incident of the Dead Bird in the Kitchen

Like James Brown, that late, great Godfather of Soul, dogs love the funk.

Given a choice between a gentle stroll through a dandelion-dappled field and a romp and roll through the muck and the mire, a dog will go for the mud bath every time --- the more foul and oozy the better. Sometimes, I think, dogs believe that they are actually four-wheel-drive vehicles with fur and tails.

Dogs are connoisseurs of crunchy rabbit droppings and rank roast beef, of skanky, sweat-soaked socks and underwear, and the chance to give a deep snuff-snuffle to a dead possum, skunk, or woodchuck is heaven on earth.

Bijou is no exception. She might have that snooty little poodle pedigree, but her instincts are all mutt. And given that they're all nose, dogs have a clear advantage over us humans when it comes to detecting that delectable world of reek and skank.

So, it's a quiet Sunday morning, my two boys are still asleep, as boys often are, my wife, Deb, is rustling in the kitchen, and Bijou and I are shuffling toward the back door. I hook her to the leash, but when I open the door she pauses --- "Come on, Bijou" --- sniffs, then lurches at what looks like a small pile of leaves riffling on the deck.

When she dashes back into the house instead of rushing down the walk to relieve herself, I --- being a shrewd dog owner --- know that something's up.

"What've you got in your mouth, Bijou?" I hear Deb say.




"Oh, gross! Dana, she's got a bird! She's got a bird!"

At least it's dead…I hope.

Bijou retreats to the far corner of the kitchen, the bird still planted in her mouth, its wings and feathers sticking out from either side of her lathered jaws.

"Oh, cool, Bijou's caught a bird!"

"It was dead," I say.

Our sons, Drew and Owen, who are always pumped for a confrontation between Dad and dog, have stumbled and rumbled downstairs. Whenever Mom shrieks "Oh, gross!" that's a hard-and-fast signal to jump out of bed and scamper downstairs.

And, of course, there's nothing quite like the spectacle of watching Dad and Bijou go mano a doggo.

"Whatcha gonna do, Dad?" the boys ask, their eyes gleaming with glee. It's like having Animal Planet right there in the kitchen --- except I'm no unflappable crocodile hunter.

I try the straightforward dog-master approach first (knowing full well that it won't work). I stride over to Bijou, look her in the eye, and firmly say: "Bijou. Drop it."


All right, so we raised our kids better than we raised our dog. One more time: "Bijou. Drop it."


No question, Bijou's brain has been short-circuited by bird lust. What she really wants to do is carry her prey off to some dark, feral cave, eviscerate it, and chow down on the choicest bits. Instead, she's cornered --- how embarrassing --- in a kitchen in suburban New Jersey. That never, ever happened to Cujo.

Deb tries next, still hopeful. "Bijou, want a treat?" She shakes the box of Milk-Bones at her like some kind of Native American shaman--talk about desperate housewives.

Bijou gives her a baleful glance: "Yeah, right."

I crouch in front of Bijou and slowly reach toward her --- "Beeee-jouuuu, drooooop iiit" --- and somehow simultaneously her jaws tighten on the bird (mercifully, it is dead) and her lips curl back in a snarl. To be honest, I don't like how she's glaring at my bared throat.

Bijou: "Grrr."

Deb: "Dana, be careful."

Bijou: "Grrr."

Boys: "She gonna bitecha, Dad?"

Bijou: "Grrr."

Me: "Boys, get me the gardening gloves."

Bijou: "Grrr."

Well, poodle wrestling isn't anywhere near as glamorous as alligator wrestling, but sometimes it just has to be done. And, of course, in my family I'm the designated poodle wrestler (not to mention poodle wrangler).

The boys secure their spots on the kitchen bleachers as I tug on my garden gauntlets and become Sir Dana the Mortified of Godfrey Road, unhorsed, if not unmanned, by a mini-poo. I swear that my sons are gorging on popcorn and Jujubes as they watch, but I'm probably mistaken.

I march over to Bijou --- "Dana, be careful" --- bend over her, and try diplomacy one last time: "Bijou. Drop it."


I reach down and start prising open Bijou's jaws with all the pride of a sneak thief pinching candy from a baby.


It's really, really amazing how hard a miniature poodle can keep her jaws clamped shut.

"Grrr," and "Dana, be careful," and "You're getting there, Dad."

I feel like Johnny Weissmuller in one of those old Tarzan movies where he kills the crocodile or lion by artfully avoiding the rows and rows of dagger teeth and wedging open the animal's jaws to the breaking point.

I don't want to hurt Bijou, of course. I just want to get that goddamned bird out of her mouth.

Firm yet gentle, I unlock Bijou's jaw --- the poodle giving me the wolf eye --- and unmesh her teeth. When I manage a gap in Bijou's mouth, I shout, "Now, Drew!" and he swipes the dead bird away, Deb expertly sweeps it out the door, and Bijou detonates into a one-dog riot.

She snakes her lip back to her forehead, bares her cute little white fangs, snaps a couple times so that her teeth clack and click, then dervishes around the kitchen, chasing her tail --- Little Miss Psycho Poodle. It's all quite charming.

We let her cool off, then, fifteen minutes later, I call to her. "Bijou, let's go out."

I hear her head shake as if she's waking from a dream, she trots down the stairs, I hook her up, and we take our walk--all is forgiven, with no hard feelings on either side.

What a Difference a Dog Mages: Big Lessons on Life, Love, and Healing from a Small Pooch
by by Dana Jennings

  • Genres: Essays, Pets
  • hardcover: 156 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385532830
  • ISBN-13: 9780385532839