His name is Moose. I don’t know much about him. We were first introduced yesterday evening when he pressed his cold nose against my skin, which is the age-old gesture of friendship between dogs and humans.
Moose is roughly two-foot tall with a short tail, black muzzle, wide-set eyes, brindle coat, and linen-white paws. He’s a boxer, and he has a temperament so calm he makes the Pope look like a troublemaker.
Moose belongs to our friends, Steve and Elvira. My wife and I were at our friends’ house celebrating New Year’s last night. All evening I was transfixed by Moose because, judging by the look on his face, he didn’t understand what we were celebrating. I guess Moose has never heard of New Year’s Day.
“It’s New Year’s, Moose,” I explained. “Are you gonna wish me happy New Year?”
Moose blinked once. Then he licked himself and left the room.
Because, hey, he’s not here to participate in our weird human holidays. No, Moose is merely an observer within frantic People World.
Although from the corner of my eye I could see the old boy paying attention to our peopleish conversations with genuine interest. He looked like a spectator at a tennis match. His head would move left, then right. Left. Right. Left. Then he’d pause to do more intimate grooming.
We humans were having some animated discussions too. We were talking about things like pandemics, and problems the virus has created. And we talked about the New Year, and how 2021 is going to be a better year.
The whole time, Moose just watched us. Because for dogs, you see, there is no such thing as pandemics or New Year’s Day. In fact, to a dog there is no yesterday, no next week, and no 2021. There is simply right now.
A dog’s world involves no clocks or calendars. It’s nothing but food, naps, and visits to the yard to make sure your favorite tree gets peed on.
This is why it amazes me that Man and Dog have been friends for so long. We couldn’t be more different. And yet archaeologists estimate that we have been besties for nearly 32,000 years.
I wonder if deep within the recesses of a dog’s ancient DNA there is a memory of the way Earth used to be, before our friendship. I wonder if dogs have dim recollections of an age before lightbulbs, before Roman Empires, Greek tunics, and The Lawrence Welk Show.
Before our friendship, the canine’s forebears were savage animals. And in a way, so were humans. Dog and Man were competitors for the same food sources, so they hated each other. Man thought dogs were vicious and untamed. Dogs thought men were untrustworthy and smelled like toe jam.
But at some point in history, everything changed. The gap between two species was crossed, and I imagine this moment must have been majestic.
Maybe it happened late one night. Maybe one of our early human ancestors sat on the edge of a canyon, staring at an ancient nightscape. Maybe it was a little boy. Maybe this child had been crying.
Perhaps a wolf happened upon this human by accident. And maybe this canine was like all dogs and could not bear to see a human weep. The old animal might have been thinking to itself, “What a poor little boy.”
Poor indeed. This boy might have been an emotional wreck because his mother died from a fever. Or his father might have been killed during a hunt. Maybe the boy was wounded, or hungry, or lonely. The world wasn’t exactly a happy-go-lucky place.
Either way, the canine must have felt something akin to actual sympathy. And maybe it was enough compassion to make the animal do something about it. Because on this blessed night, so many moons ago, something happened. The first human held out his hand, and the first pup wandered from the woods to press its cold nose against soft human skin.
And do you know what’s funny? The canine could not have picked a more misguided, disloyal pal than mankind. We humans turned out to be real pieces of work.
We were creatures whose instincts were always to advance, kill, make war, and above all, purchase real estate with a water view.
Dogs should have left us humans in the dust long ago; we didn’t deserve their companionship. For crying out loud, we upended the entire earth just so we could build stuff, tear the same stuff down, build more stuff, tear it down too, then put in a TJ Maxx. “More, more, more,” that was mankind’s motto.
The dog should have made buddies with the hippopotamus, the giraffe, or at the very least, the chinstrap penguin. But the dog chose you and me.
For millennia the canine remained steadfast. A noble hound sat within our ancestor’s hearth, the dog watched our forefathers go from wearing loin cloths to Levis.
And no matter how often we humans made godless mistakes, indulged our own vanities, butchered our fellow men in battle, stirred up new conflicts, or built ugly strip malls, the dog stuck around.
And I think that’s remarkable.
Anyway, the New Year’s dinner was fun. After supper we all said “Happy New Year” to each other in the driveway. We shook hands, we embraced, we promised that this was going to be an outstanding year. And we hoped what we promised would somehow be true.
And although Moose didn’t understand my farewell words to him, his small tail began to wag. Before I climbed into our vehicle I held out my hand and called his name. Moose knew exactly what to do. He came trotting toward me to offer the most sincere and guileless greeting of his kind.
He pressed a cold nose against my skin. “Happy New Year,” I believe he was saying.
I wish I could be as faultless as a dog.