A dog’s life

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(Host) Philip Baruth claims to live near a dog park in Burlington’s New North End. This is true. His claim to have met a dog there resembling British Prime Minister Tony Blair, however, cannot be independently verified.

(Baruth) I’m at the dog park out in the New North End the other day with my husky Cassie, and a long black limousine pulls into the parking lot. Now, I know most of the park regulars and this limousine is nothing I’ve ever seen before.

A guy in a dark suit and dark sunglasses gets out of the driver’s side and opens the door to the passenger compartment. And then there’s a flash of blue and brown, and his dog shoots out of the car and over to the set of double gates that let you into the park. From where I’m standing it looks like a terrier of some sort, jumping straight up in the air in front of the gates. Finally, his owner catches up and opens the gate, and the little guy goes tearing into the park.

As he comes flying by me, I see that the dog’s also wearing a little suit, pinstriped, and for some crazy reason the owner’s got a red tie on him too.

But far be it from me to tell people they’re overaccessorizing their animals. I make it a strict rule never to judge people in the dog park.

Still – now, I know this sounds weird or whatever but just as the little terrier cruises by me, I get a look at his face, and it looks just like Tony Blair. You know, the Prime Minister of England. He’s got the longish ears, the bright eyes, and the permanently upbeat expression. And then the dog’s gone, off at the other end of the park, getting acquainted with the rest of the pack.

By this time, the owner comes walking up, and I notice that he’s got a wire coming out of his ear and going into his lapel. But I don’t say a word: remember, never judge in the dog park.

We both stare out toward the pack of dogs, swirling over the field.

“Which one’s yours?” the man in the suit asks.
“Mine’s the husky there,” I say, and there’s a pause, and then I add, “Yours the one in the Armani?”

The man nods, and just then my dog Cassie breaks away from the pack with a tennis ball, but the terrier is right at her heels.

“Mine’ll be a year in September,” I offer. “How about your guy?”
“He’s fifty-one,” the guy in the suit says. There’s a long silence, and then he adds, “He’s not really mine. He’s my boss’s. I’m just sort of watching him for a couple of days.”

That’s about all we say for the next ten minutes, and then abruptly the man in the suit pulls a control out of his pocket and points it at the terrier in the distance. Suddenly the terrier looks up, and then comes sprinting back to us. I can’t help but stare, and the man in the suit confides, “We got him on a training collar. He comes the second he hears the warning tone.”

Now here’s where my principles come into conflict, because as much as I try not to judge, I’ve never liked the idea of people wiring their dog’s collar for electric shock. People as a whole are too hungry for that sort of power, and dogs as a whole are too vulnerable. But again I keep quiet, and the dog with the face of Tony Blair runs up and sits while his handler puts his leash on.

And then they leave, but the whole thing really depresses me somehow, because Tony Blair was the one person following September the 11 who seemed to know exactly what needed to be said, and knew exactly how to say it, and I admired him. But now that’s changed forever. Now when I think of Blair I’ll also think of that poor animal today, and the sort of unquestioning obedience we associate with pets, rather than rational creatures.

Philip Baruth is novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

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