Tag Archives: Scottish Terriers

On Ownership and the Naming of Things



“He brought us joy, and we loved him well.  He was not ours; He was not mine.”

                                                                                                   –Karen Blixen in Out of Africa

Upon seeing that I had put a borrowed dog in my engagement photos and in my wedding, a friend of mine said something a little too snarky and disapproving  about how the dog wasn’t even mine. Because I’m a good Midwesterner, I did not say what I wanted to say, which was, “Bite me” and instead pretended I didn’t hear. In the legal sense of the word, the dog was not mine so long as his owners—family friends for whom I had been petsitting for for two decades—were alive, though I’d asked them to sign a document addressed To Whom It May Concern stating that should they both be eaten by lions while on safari, their most recent Scottish Terrier would belong to me. I couldn’t stand the thought of this bright-eyed creature being sent off with someone who knew him or loved him less well than I did, like some poor protagonist from a gothic novel.

One of the repeated struggles of my life—and maybe you are the same—is that the labels that we put on relationships never seem to accurately or completely encompass how we experience those relationships. The labels make the person or quality of love seem mundane, like any old parent, husband, pet when we know them to be something larger than that, more unique, special. I move easily between speaking of growing up as an only child but also of my two brothers (half brothers who arrived a state away when I was nearly an adult but to whom I hate referring as “half brothers” because it makes them sound somehow less significant). I have cousins who, in my mind, are siblings or best friends. My mother has always been more than just a mother because she and I kind of grew up together and can talk for hours about whatever we’ve just read, seen, or thought, and I can’t quite categorize that…are we more like siblings? Friends? Or just run-of-the-mill parent-child and I’m delusional? I’ve had friends who in some ways felt like spouses. And I’ve got a spouse who has so transcended my idea of what “spouse” means that there should be some other word that denotes him…a word that shoots sparks and sings.

Mac, never on the right side of a door.

Mac, never on the right side of a door.

And then there is the above-mentioned Scottish Terrier: Mac Harvey, Macadoodledoo, Macaloo, Mackie. My fairy god dog. His humans–people who over the years themselves became indefinable, something closer than friends, a different kind of family–adopted him as a puppy only after I promised to babysit him while they were overseas for several weeks. They invited me over to meet him the day he came home, and like most Scottish Terrier puppies, he was 90% ears and 10% dog. Puppies are not hard to fall in love with, and he was no exception, though within weeks, it was impossible not to believe he was exceptional. He was something more amazing than someone else’s pet that I had to let in and out the door 37 times a day. I’d cared about his owners’ other pets—I’d wept when they died—but when Mac came into my life, I became 100% a dog person, 100% his. He’d get bored and string toilet paper and chewed magazines pieces throughout the house, and I couldn’t get mad. He’d hog the bed. He refused to come in at night after his curfew and I’d worry about the coyotes I was sure were out there waiting to bite into him. He once ate some of the papers I was grading so I had to go to class and confess, “My dog ate your homework.” But he never once felt like an obligation or a job. He was always a delight, even when he made a poor decision like Beth’s new bra = chew toy.

He arrived at a crossroads in my life thirteen years ago. My father had recently died. I’d returned from a transformative summer in Ireland. A few months before his arrival, the nature of the world had gotten scarier and more paranoid because of September 11th. I was a year deep into therapy that had me naming what I wanted out of life for the first time—to say without apology that I wanted a partner and maybe a baby and a writing career. And also, I’d just met a Zimbabwean co-worker who I was sure was meant for me though he didn’t know it yet. I’d toss Mac into my new car—the first car I’d paid for myself—and we’d drive around town, his snout poking out the crack of a window, and he felt like mine and it felt like the life I’d been meant to have, a woman and her dog, looking for an adventure.

Mac with a side order of snow.

Mac with a side order of snow.

My first weekend with Mac, I called my paternal grandfather to see if I could bring the puppy over to meet him. Grandpa loved Julia Roberts movies and dogs unequivocally, and I couldn’t wait to introduce him to Mac, who was still so small that he sometimes tipped over when he hiked his leg. But when the phone was picked up at Grandpa’s house, it was my aunt’s shaky voice instead of Grandpa’s, and she said tearfully, “Oh, Beth! Grandpa died this morning.” That weekend Mac and I hosted my cousins at what was one of many family gatherings at his generous humans’ house for a modified wake. He distracted us from our grief and won our hearts when he took, very gently, tiny bites of a muffin offered to him by one of the toddlers, as if he knew that she was a more delicate creature than the rest of us and her soft flesh could be pierced by his sharp puppy teeth. (He was also very tolerant when later she shut herself into his kennel.) From this first introduction and subsequent family gatherings, more people fell in love with him. One cousin deemed him “cool”, another made him a Christmas present, friends came to stay with me in no small part because they’d get to spend time with him, and those among them who weren’t dog lovers would leave saying, “I’d have a dog if I could have one like Mac.”  Even while Z and I were in Ireland two months ago, my cousins there who’d come to stay at “the dog house” for a week twelve years ago, asked after him and showed me photos of their young son playing with him on the floor. Eoin and Mac were great pals that week. Now Eoin is in college.

Because Mac’s people traveled a lot, I stayed with him multiple times a year. He slept in the middle of the king sized bed I slept in, nudged me awake at ungodly hours to go outside and police his yard, he’d jab at the back of my legs with his strong snout to hurry me along in his supper preparations. We walked on “his” campus at Earlham, where he was well known and strutted around, a sort of stately gentleman about town (when he wasn’t terrorizing squirrels). Though all the experts talk about how headstrong terriers are and how they should never be let off a leash, Mac was sensible, had been well-trained, and almost always came when called unless a particularly delectable rabbit was in the underbrush. His parents gave him freedom and full run of the campus, and so I let him off leash as soon as we were a safe distance from the road, and he would race around the paths and grass like a mad man. He delighted the students who were homesick for their own pets, treed every squirrel who dared step on his grass, scampered in the woods behind the main campus, and would attempt to sneak into the building where his dad taught. He and his three good dog friends—Lilly, Phoebe, and Luther—would occasionally meet there for a ramble, and he’d be so excited at the prospect of being with his little pack that he’d start howling before I’d parked the car and let him out to to tear off with them, happy to be with his own kind. A few years ago, my cousin came down to visit with her new, very teeny and adorable dachshund, and while we walked the campus, everyone oohed and aahed over little Zoe instead of the now greying Mac, who stood patiently while she was in the spotlight, reminding me of how I used to feel as an only child when other children were in my domain. Mac was tolerant of and polite to Zoe all weekend, but when he saw her and her mother drive away on Sunday afternoon, his tail wagged extra hard and he did two victory laps around the driveway, his only-dog status restored.

Favorite spot in the bed.

Favorite spot in the bed.

I’ve written here about his antics, his refined tastes for bottled water, how he’d put himself firmly between me and Z or between me and whatever new baby someone had dragged into his house to establish his ownership of me. He was clever and would play hide and seek with a bone: I would hide it, he would find it, he would hide it—walk me around the house, barking encouragement—until I found it. We’d do this for what felt like hours and he rarely tired of it. He often spent holidays with my family, so there he is in our Christmas photos and Easter photos, on the fringes of baby showers, wakes, reunions.

Ever hopeful.

Ever hopeful.

My friends with children had to regularly grit their teeth when they would tell me a story about their kids and I’d respond with a story about Mac, as if the child and the dog were equal entities. But he did feel like my baby. I was always looking for the toy that would please him and enhance his intellectual development, talking to him as if he were an adult human. I felt his shame the day he had a bout of gastrointestinal distress while on his campus walk and had to be brought home sitting in the backseat in a garbage bag, with just his head poking out, and then had to suffer the further indignity of having his backside scrubbed. I had to take him to the vet more than once because he wasn’t acting like himself, and I felt the anxiety that “real” pet owners and, I’m guessing, parents of human children, must feel whenever their own ones are sick and cannot say, “This is what hurts, you fools, FIX IT!” As he got older, I worried about his aches and his pains, how many more visits I’d have with him. In the five and a half years since I got married and moved across country away from Mac, I flew home multiple times specifically to stay with him because I didn’t want him in a kennel. Fortunately, Mom was often able to stay with him once I left town, so he did not often have many sleepovers with strangers. While in Seattle, if I met dogs on the street and stopped to scratch ears, I’d say to their owners without feeling like a liar, “I have a dog back home in Indiana that I miss so much.” Z and I added a leg to a trip to California specifically to visit him and his parents, who were wintering in Palm Springs, and we were rewarded with a lengthy “talk” from him that seemed to indicate his delight at seeing his extended human pack in a place he’d never encountered them before. On that visit, he proudly walked us from room to room, giving us a tour of his part-time home.

Photo credit: Susanna Tanner Photography

Photo credit: Susanna Tanner Photography

This is Mac with me and Z on our engagement photo shoot at the old train depot in my hometown. Does he look like he is not my dog? Does he look like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world? Is it crazy that I invited a dog that was not mine to share one of the most important days of my life a few months later? Oh never mind. These questions are rhetorical. I really don’t care what anyone thinks—it’s what I wanted and I have no regrets. Maybe it was a selfish thing to have asked his parents to bring him, to insist he be in my wedding without knowing if he wanted to do it. He seemed to like the attention that his red plaid bow-tie commanded and the treats that awaited him at the end of the aisle, but possibly it was overwhelming with too many people in too foreign a place. Yet he felt like part of my family and I couldn’t imagine the day without him.

The Best Dog

The Best Dog

Mac and I happened to be together five months after I got married when I was awaiting the news of whether a crappy diagnosis I’d just received was going to be survivable or would cut short my newly-wedded dreams, and he seemed to instinctively know that I needed him curled up beside me, and after awhile, when he felt I’d wallowed in sadness and anxiety long enough, he’d nudge me towards the door, we’d go for a walk, and I’d be reminded that none of us knows the measure of our days and so we have to enjoy each one as best we can. If dogs teach us anything, surely this is the lesson, over and over and over again.


Louis CK says that when you bring a puppy home to your family, it’s really just a countdown to sadness. Which is kind of what this blog has been. Mac turned thirteen in January, and lived twice as long as any of his owners’ previous Scotties. Because he had a brindle coat, people had been accusing him of being an old dog when he was still young, but he had gotten greyer, deafer, and finally, sick. My mother got to visit with him one last time yesterday, and I am both sad and relieved that I was in Seattle and so didn’t have to say goodbye this morning before he was sent—as Pa Ingall’s tells Laura in By the Shores of Silver Lake about Jack, their brindle bulldog—to the happy hunting ground.

In other things I cannot properly name besides those relationships that mean the most to me, I’ve never been a willing namer or acceptor of death. Maybe it is my Christian upbringing. Maybe it is simply denial. But in my mind, my father is still playing golf somewhere in Dayton, Ohio, and has just refused to get a cell phone thus rendering himself temporarily unreachable. All four of my grandparents and an amazing step-grandmother who lived to be 99 can’t figure out the computer to send emails. Eventually, we’ll be in each other’s company again, I think to myself, as I go about my day after a memory of one of them flashes into my consciousness. This separation is only temporary. It’s unfathomable to me that I won’t see my dearly departed again, so I refuse to attempt to fathom it. On days like today I’m not sure if belief in an afterlife is a matter of faith or stubborn refusal to face facts, but I’m glad for the faith or the stubborness that dwells in me and makes some future meeting a possibility.

As far as I am concerned, Mac is chasing squirrels, awaiting his next treat, anxious to play hide-and-seek, ready to fight me for the dead center of the bed,  and letting out a howl of glee when he sees Lilly, Phoebe, and Luther.   Maybe I can allow for this scenario because I am not the one looking at his empty dog dish or his toy hedgehog, never to be retrieved from his  basket again. Maybe this is the true signifier that he was not mine. My grief is large, but for his parents, it is larger.

Thirteen years ago when his parents asked if I’d be willing to watch the puppy they were considering, would I have answered any differently even if I’d known then how the absence of a little dog with a big bark could wreck me? Of course not. How lucky was I that they let him consistently be  in my life and seemed tolerant of what they must have always known: that in my heart, he belonged to me.

Flashback Friday: Lowered Expectations

Mac, soon to be usurped by Z.

Mac, soon to be usurped by Z.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

[I’m now wearing a whole different style of jeans with a whole host of other fashion problems, but please remember this was eight years ago and don’t judge me too harshly.]

Last week, a precocious kindergartner at the school where my mother works began a conversation with her teacher in that way you do when you assume the person to whom you are speaking has had exactly the same experience as you. The conversation starter was this: “You know when you poop your pants on purpose and your grandma gets mad….”

This delights me (mostly because I am not the grandmother, I suspect). I love the lack of self-awareness, the belief that of course EVERYONE has done just this thing and understands the negative repercussions.

And so I begin this blog….

You know when you buy a pair of low-rise jeans, even though you know you shouldn’t….”

It is typical of me to finally buy into a fashion trend when it is on its way out, and while I know my body is not suited to it from various aesthetically displeasing experiences in dressing rooms across America, I found a cheap pair of jeans I liked and they just happened to be low-rise, and now I have become one of the those Midwestern-shaped women who spends her day hiking up her pants. . . . while shopping, while teaching, while talking to the Vice Chancellor of Information Technology. I don’t know what I was thinking. I am a child of the 80s and as such jeans belong somewhere right at or slightly above the navel. I am not a mother, but I am most comfortable in Mom Jeans.

And we won’t even speak of the ill-advised underwear I bought to accompany the jeans. No we won’t.

Z is in the air, winging his way toward me for a long Valentine’s weekend, though come Sunday it will seem like the shortest weekend in history. He has already been delayed by a couple of hours, and I’m annoyed that an airline snafu is cutting into my time with him. I’m half-tempted to call Northwest and say, “Work with me people!!!”

As luck would have it, I’m at the Dog House for the rest of the month, babysitting, while my Scottie’s parents are off on a cruise of South America. My fantasies of putting the house to good romantic use have already been dashed. The nice thick white carpet in front of the fireplace that would be good for a picnic–or let’s be honest, making out–has been ripped up and replaced with very trendy hardwood and no area rugs. The hot tub is broken. It’s 3 degrees out, so the sweet walks on our old, friendship-only stomping ground cannot be re-dedicated to this new incarnation of us unless we bundle ourselves up like the little brother in A Christmas Story. I’m beginning to suspect the Scottie Dog is not going to approve of the two of us in a romantic relationship, and I’ve already begun envisioning all the ways he will try to break us up, kind of like Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills did to Brian Keith and their potential new step-mother in The Parent Trap. He’s a good dog, but he is an only child. [In fact, Z gave Mac a very sweet talk about how love was expansive and Z was not replacing Mac in my heart. Mac had none of it and promptly hopped in bed, wedging his way between the two of us with his back side pointed in Z’s general direction.–RGS, 2015]

Also, you know when you order a box of chocolates from England for your sweetheart that depict various acts from The Kama Sutra and then you start to second guess yourself and wonder if what initially seemed funny and mildly naughty is really just in poor taste, reeks of desperation and might make the object of your affection go off you completely? Yeah, well. . . .

That’s it. I am officially lowering my expectations for the weekend.

But I am NOT wearing the low-rise jeans.

Happy Birthday, Baby

Yours truly, age one.

Yours truly, age one.


Last May when I was in a pet store with my half-brother and his family, my three-year-old niece Bridget and I were perusing a rack of pet-themed cards when she decided she wanted to find her daddy. I was so engrossed in the photos of pug dogs in lipstick and feather boas that I said, “Okay. He’s over by the fish” without once thinking maybe a three-year-old should have an adult escort. A few minutes later my brother came up to me and said, “Um, have you seen my daughter?” Panic. We found her a few seconds later midway to the fish with her face pressed against an aquarium full of gerbils, but I momentarily felt like the world’s worst aunt. So maybe it’s not surprising that I’ve been having such a good time in Indiana that I not only forgot to write a real post, but I also forgot that my baby, The Reluctant Girl Scout, turned one-year-old on the 18th. She’s twelve months old and walking and talking and I totally forgot to commemorate the moment with a snapshot. Oops.


I like to think if I had an actual human child I wouldn’t be so forgetful—failing to celebrate its birthday, leaving it in its carrier on the trunk of the car as I drive off down the road towards some exciting destination—but one has to wonder.


It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been a year since the Xanax Safari to Zimbabwe inspired me to start this thing. My optimistic self thought I’d post every day and so at the end of the year I’d be sitting on a heap of posts and the whole world would be reading me; my pessimistic self thought the likelihood that I’d forget to post at all once the trip to Africa was over was high. So the reality here that I’m still writing but somewhat less frequently than I meant to is both cause for celebration and regret. Though in my defense, there are a lot of non blog-worthy days when I’m just sitting around the house wondering if there’s a better way to organize the plastic bags under the sink.


The three weeks in Indiana have been excellent. The first two weeks we were staying with my beloved Scottie Fairy God Dog, Mac, at his beautiful house while his parents were in Norway. I’ve been staying at this house with Mac and his Scottish predecessors since I was 18, which is to say, a whole lot of years. I love the house, an L-shaped ranch that is situated on the wooded property in such a way that it feels very, very private and remote even though it is in the middle of town and there’s a Famous Recipe Fried Chicken less than a quarter mile away.


When you’ve stayed in someone else’s house for such a big part of your life, it is strange how it gets woven into your fabric as if it were your own. I’m not really talking about ownership of the property or the things inside but the place itself.


It’s the perfect house for entertaining, and with Mac’s parents’ blessing, I’ve done some entertaining there. My extended family has been there enough in both sunshine and in shadow that they think of it as my house (and Mac as my dog) and periodically we have discussions about whether, should the owners ever sell, we should pool all of our money together and buy it so we’ll continue to have such a peaceful, lovely place to gather.


Over the course of a few decades, it’s remarkable how many life events have unfolded there: affairs of the heart begun and ended, friendships begun and ended, baby showers and wakes, family reunions, phone calls both joyous and devastating, holidays, a trip to the ER after a fall through a screen door in the midst of what seemed like a promising date. (Oh, fortuitous, fortuitous accident.)


Lately, whenever I stay there, I’m afraid it will be my last time. Mac is no spring chicken. His parents threaten to move west permanently. I live on the other side of the country now, so my schedule and their vacation schedule aren’t always in sync.


Mac on his evening constitutional.

Mac on his evening constitutional.


When you are living your life at 18, you think it will always be exactly as it is and you rail against it. You fail to enjoy fully the bounty (of someone else’s gorgeous house, of friends and family, of little dogs and gray cats) in front of you because you yearn for your own adventures, your own houses, in places far away. And then you wake up in the middle of your life and realize that nothing is static and maybe you should appreciate that view more, rub the Scottie dog’s ears a few more times, take a picture of the crane about to lunch on a fish in the pond, be grateful for each visit with friends, each dinner with family, any chance you get to be in a place you love. The birthdays that come unbidden.




Flashback Friday Night: Snakes I Have Loathed

Horrible, Scottie-eating snake.

Scottie-eating snake. A cobra, perhaps? A python? Something horrible.

(Earlier today, I was forced to stare at a metaphorical snake and my blood ran cold. Fortunately, it wasn’t feeling any animosity toward me and so slithered away to sun itself on a rock somewhere. Even so, this seemed a timely post from eight years ago when I was staying at Mac the Scottie Wonder Dog’s house.)


15 June 2006

I hate snakes. Call it irrational, girly, predictable, whatever you want, but I  think all snakes should die, or, when I’m in a more goodwill-toward-all sort of mood, then I would be satisfied if they were all quarantined on an island somewhere so I could easily avoid it. I don’t feel this way about spiders or mice–in fact, I regularly spring the mouse traps set at the Dog House because it seems like bad, bad karma to eighty-six something so cute who is just out there trying to make a living like the rest of us.

But snakes are a different story and I’m not even from a part of the world where they are poisonous.

Several years ago I had a grandmotherly student who was not a native speaker of English. I was fond of her despite how difficult her papers were to decipher. Aside from the ESL issues, her thoughts often seemed jumbled and it was difficult to figure out how the ideas were connected. She once wrote a paper in which she talked frequently about “sneaks.”  For an evening, I tried to piece together what she really wanted her paper to be about. I pictured people who were out to get her, sneaking around her neighborhood, maybe painting racial epithets on her garage door or rifling through her garbage in the early-morning hours, co-workers sneaking behind her back and trying to make her life difficult. I wondered briefly if perhaps her husband had been sneaking around on her but she was afraid to write boldy about such a personal betrayal and so made her essay vague in order to protect herself.

After the third read-thru, it dawned on me that “sneaks” were really SNAKES. It was, perhaps, the strongest paper she ever wrote for the class, her hatred of snakes seemed to help her unify her thoughts.

Today, I let Mac out and two seconds later heard this awful caterwauling on the kitchen deck. I looked out in time to see a giant snake coiled up and ready to lunge at my sweet Scottie. Mac has a ferocious bark and tenacious spirit, and while both of these things should have scared the snake off, neither did. I called the dog in but the snake then glared at us through the patio door, still coiled and ready to strike. He opened his mouth, wide, to show us what he was made of. Mac whimpered, desperate to tear into this invader. I poked at the glass and made noises meant to scare it off, but the snake just stared at me, sitting on its snake-haunches, on the verge of attack. It didn’t leave until Mac and I walked away from the window and let it “win.” I haven’t let the dog out since.

(And yes, I did have to go through that paragraph and make it gender neutral because I always think of snakes as “he.”)

There are a lot of fantastical things in the Bible–people turning to pillars of salt, burning bushes, walking on water–but I’ve never had a problem with believing any of it. Today, though, I’m thinking the whole Garden of Eden story is a real crock. What self-respecting woman would talk to a snake? I just don’t think it would happen. They are all side-windy and slithery and awful. I can see how Eve might have been hoodwinked by a honey-tongued snake-like fruit salesman, whispering in her ear and telling her that his apples were better than anyone else’s while he twirled his moustahce, but an actual, honest-to-goodness snake? I don’t think so. I like to think the mother-of-us-all would have been cleverer and looked for a way to avoid a serpent confrontation.

At school, I regularly have students–almost always female, usually those with tattoos of pentagrams who smell of patchouli–who insist that snakes are wonderful, loving pets, but I never believe them. You can’t curl up with a snake and watch old Frasier reruns, like the Scottie Dog and I did last night. What you can do with a pet snake is take it out of its aquarium in an attempt to make guests uncomfortable. That’s about it. I’ve always thought how awful it was that cats were regularly murdered in medieval times (and beyond) because they were associated with witchcraft. How ignorant and heartless, I’d think. But snakes? If there were an anti-snake mob out there with the torches and  zeal? I’d probably join in, shouting and shaking a cudgel, ready to make the neighborhood safer.

Except for the part where I might actually have to face one of the sneaks. Ugh.


Now is the Springtime of Our Discontent: A Dog Story




Seattle Beth always has big, big plans for Indiana Beth. When she’s in Seattle, she makes lists of all the people she will see and the boxes she will rifle through in her parents’ attic and the epiphanies she will have while she is in her natural habitat. But Indiana Beth always has other ideas. Indiana Beth mostly wants to sit around staring out the window, chatting with her family, reading books that got left behind in the Great Move. Inexplicably, on this trip, Indiana Beth has been obsessively doing jigsaw puzzles on her iPad. Like an old person.


Seattle Beth is disappointed in Indiana Beth.


Frankly, I’m disappointed in both of them: the one for not realizing the limitations and proclivities and the other for being so incredibly lazy.


I was supposed to fly back to Z on Tuesday, but had an unwelcome 24-hour bug that made air travel seem like a bad idea. I was disappointed not to see Z on schedule and disappointed not to get to claim the first class seat to which I’d been upgraded. But I’m never sad to spend more time at home. Luckily, Mom has taken over my pet sitting gigs with Mac the Wonder Scottie, and so the bonus days in Richmond were spent with him at his gorgeous house. What’s a little stomach discomfort when you get to sit on a screened porch staring at a pond and woods with a little Scottish Terrier under your chair?


As soon as I realized that I needed to skip the flight and rebooked for three days later, Seattle Beth started making plans again. Maybe I could still clean out a closet, write a book proposal, post a blog a day, go on hour long walks of a vigorous nature, meditate, do yoga, find inner peace, come up with an idea for world peace.


It’s a lot to accomplish in three days, especially when there is a lovely view and a porch.


Mac is always initially excited to see me. He does his happy dance and his special growl-talk and we’re both overjoyed to be together again, and so we love on each other and then fight over his scruffy hedgehog. I’ve been watching him since he was a puppy and now he has a beard that makes him look like a wizard, so it is safe to say we know each other well. I know that if I say “Get the monkeys” when I open the door to let him out, he will go tearing into the yard set on chasing away the imaginary beasts even though he should know by now that there are no monkeys. (Mac hates monkeys even though he’s yet to come face to face with one.) He should also know that I am not what you’d call an energetic person.


Like Seattle Beth, he becomes discontent, and I can only assume that the source of this discontentment is me. I read too much. I sit and stare too much. Mom and I talk too long about things like the influx of buzzards. Finally, he sighs and turns his back on the pair of us and has a nap. I’d kind of like to teach him to play Words with Friends to take some of the pressure off of me. I’m not a good entertainment director. Once you have the walk and the hedgehog tug-of-war and the meal and the snacks, what else is there really? I’ve long been convinced that if I could show him how to read, he’d be so much more content.


Other sources of discontentment on this my last day in Indiana: a Ku Klux Klan rally in neighboring Centerville. I’m horrified and disgusted. And frankly, Mac is too. He seems to have a strong desire to sneak into the rally and tug white sheets off of participants, exposing them for the cowards and fools that they are. Maybe this explains the buzzard problem.

The Best Dog’s Birthday

Mac, the Scottish Terrier

Mac, the Scottish Terrier

It seems like a real oversight on my part that you all have met Skampy but you haven’t met Mac.


This is Mac. Today is his birthday. He’s twelve. He’s in California, living it up with his parents, where he spends half the year sunning himself and dreaming about the squirrels that are running rampant in his own backyard back in Richmond. (You may remember him because he got a shout out when I was in Zimbabwe. Then, it seemed like maybe he was terribly, terribly sick, but then miraculously, he wasn’t and there was much jubilation in America and Zimbabwe.) Today, he’s eating some doggy version of cake two states away from me, and we’re all  happy about that. The world is a better place with Mac in it.


He is my Fairy God Dog. Probably it is weird to be so attached to a dog that doesn’t technically belong to you, but too bad. He feels like mine, and when I run into other Scotties here in Seattle and talk to their owners, I say, “I have a Scottie back home in Indiana,” and I don’t even feel like a liar. He was the Best Dog in our wedding, and it’s hard for me to imagine he’s not the best dog anywhere. He and I are pretty happy when we get to spend time together.


His parents have had a series of Scottish terriers that I’ve been babysitting at their gorgeous home since I was 18. They also had a quirky, incontinent cat that I liked a lot. (Perhaps best not to speak of the pair of lizards that were in my charge one year there.) Mac’s predecessor, Bailey, was the sort of dog who would have been a real reader if he’d only had an index finger to flip pages with, and while he’d sit on the patio regarding the flowers, I convinced myself that if he were a man, he’d be my soul mate. (It is worth noting, Z does have many Bailey-esque qualities.) When Bailey died, I was sure I could love no other dog more than I loved him. What would the point be?


But then a few years later, his parents called me to see if I was up for a challenge. They had just found a Scottie puppy they were keen on, but they were about to set off on their travels for several weeks, and the only way they could get this puppy was if I agreed to stay with him. It would be a lot of work, they said, so they’d understand if I didn’t want to. I’d never had a puppy under my care, I knew nothing about helping to train a dog, and I was a little nervous at the prospect. But there was really no answer I could give but “yes.” Have you ever seen a Scottie puppy? He was adorable, there in the underbrush, hiking his leg and tipping over because he didn’t yet have his balance, and I was pretty much in love with him the first time we met.


He ate one of my best bras within the first two days I was there. He devoured an entire, unopened bag of beef jerky and then expected praise for being so clever at having figured out how to open it with his little puppy teeth. He’d regularly dart out of the house and into the woods, terrifying me because he’d refuse to come back when called, and then would dash back into the house in his own good time, covered from tip to tail in burrs. He’d lie still while I pulled the burrs from his fur, wagging his tail as if this too was the most fun ever. How could I be mad?


I could regale you pages of Mac stories, but I know that might be tedious for you. Whenever I am with him, he keeps an elaborate and entertaining journal about his exploits, so maybe you’ll read about those one day.  (I’m ashamed to admit that as soon as I write an entry, I forget that he didn’t pen it himself, so when I go back through and read it months or years later, I’m amused by how clever he is and what a way with words he has.) He’s terribly smart and he has a lot to say. He’s also superb at getting his message across even when I’m not transcribing for him. For example, I once gave him a bowl of water from my parents’ tap. They live in the country and the water is good but extra irony. I settled down in the swing to sip my bottle of Aquafina. Mac sniffed his bowl and then looked at me pointedly. Then at my bottle of Aquafina. Then back to his bowl. We did three rounds of this before I finally cried uncle, upended his bowl, and gave him half of my bottled water, which he lapped up happily.


He’s very persuasive. And squirrels live in fear of him.


Since I’m making confessions, it’s probably worth a mention that last year I flew home to Indiana expressly to see Mac because I missed him. And this summer, when my mother was babysitting him and she and I were talking on the phone, I heard him bark and I almost burst into tears because it was so good to hear his voice and I was missing him fiercely. You can’t really call a dog on the phone and have anything akin to a conversation.


So this one is to you, Mac. Tell your parents you want to see the Space Needle. And me. (And don’t tell Z, but I’ve already googled the distance between the address where you are wintering and the conference hotel where we’ll be in Anaheim next month. Maybe I can get you some dog-sized mouse ears.)