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It's Nelly's World


alec vanderboom

It is morning in Dog World. The dog (also known as The Lawmaker) has been fed, before any human of course, has been outdoors, and is now curling up on a pile of faux shearling for the postprandial nap. And this is when the person rushes to the computer, eager to check, not how Tokyo opened or the weather or the news from Aunt Marge, but when today's walk will be held.

Just as we do with our own children, the mothers of Dog World can see how fulfilling it is to our canine charges to have what are called "socialization opportunities." We can just call it playing with the pack.

Things develop for our dogs just as they did for us freshman year of college: we eye one another while brushing our teeth in the dorm bathroom the first morning, and by lunch in the dining hall, we've selected our likely allies. We have to, or we won't survive the first term.

Our dogs do it not by slyly eyeing the cool factor of the would-be friend's wardrobe, but by smell, and most of all, by proximity. Throw some dogs together for a while, particularly early in their lives, and they form a pack. Mercy had Smedley, first, and I knew her feelings for him by the motor in her tail. If she liked someone, her beautiful sweeping flag went back and forth, back and forth. But if she loved someone, she gave them Propeller Tail. All the way around, describing a full circle. And if they were an intact male, why then she made her whole body a propeller, or a top: lowered nearly to the ground, she would spin herself around while her tail went full circle, powered by the fumes of powerful pheromones.

Nelly has propeller tail for her mixed pack: four dogs. There's Willy the labradoodle (his owner, my friend Janet, wishes you to know that he was not purchased as a designer dog, or at least not by her; she is his third home). Dixie is Willy's "sister," who was found roaming the back roads of Ulster County by a dog warden savvy enough to have Janet on speed-dial. Dixie is a dead ringer for the dog star of Because of Winn-Dixie, and is now the star of many of her own personal dramas, usually involving people getting near the car when she's in it.

Not pictured now but soon will be are Nora, the first Leonberger I have ever met, and her housemate Malcolm, a flat-coated retriever who one day to his surprise found himself in the local SPCA. Bonnie is the person who rescued them both. Possibly because of their proximity to the members of her pack, or perhaps because they themselves are honorary pack members in her eyes, Nelly gives propeller tail to Bonnie and Janet as well. She also, um, screams. This is how Nelly expresses herself. She can't help it. She can't help it!!! Did I mention she's a screamer? Our trainer has dubbed her Sarah Bernhardt.

Nelly's pack is all four to five times her size. Do you think she knows this? Bonnie, before she got to know what stuff the indomitable Nelly is made of [something hard, but that screams], was worried that her dogs might "hurt" Nelly. Ha.

Today's walk was through a lovely bit of the earth's surface called Poets Walk. And the dogs were poets, feeling every mode of physicality, investigating every molecule of nature in their reach. They bounded across fields, disappeared into woods, paused in surprise as the Amtrak train roared heedlessly into and out of existence in a matter of seconds, yards away. In the small picture is the pack, before the walk. And in the big one is the pack after the walk, in Janet's car. Their tongues tell the story. It was a good day. From their perspective (always), and from ours (no one ran away, or ended up in the middle of the road, horns blaring, using up one of their 190 lives).

The walks started out for the dogs. But they ended up by addicting the humans. To see your dog this happy--it's a way of living, and of being happy yourself.