Several years ago, my friend Mike purchased a yellow labrador retriever that he named Buck. A few weeks after Buck moved in, Mike and I took him for a walk through Central Park one late afternoon. Being as adorable as lab puppies are, nearly everyone we encountered on our path stopped to say hello to puppy Buck, but Mike would have none of it. “Please don’t pet him,” he’d implore, his voice as firm as his grip on Buck’s lead. “He’s in training.”
Each person, not the least of all, me, was taken aback and, well, sort of offended–if for no other reason than being made to feel embarrassed by some guy for merely wanting to act on an urge that any normal person would feel when presented with a cute puppy.
But Mike was not that kind of person (believe me, I am familiar with that kind of person.) As we continued to walk, he explained that he was practicing the training moves he’d gleaned from “Smarter Than You Think,” a book whose philosophy is, well, read the title. You’ll figure it out.
In the off-chance that I might ever puppy-sit Buck, Mike gave me a copy of “Smarter Than You Think.” Have I ever even cracked it open? Of course not (I’m also THE FRAUDULENT READER), but Bertrand and I certainly agree with its title.
Behind the black pearl eyes of our standard poodle lives a person. And not just any person: ten-year-old me. Remy is so much like me when I was a child–shy, cowardly and very clingy. She looks on with curiosity and a tinge of envy as the other dogs frolic together in the dog run, but she’s too intimidated to jump in, so she remains by my side and observes. But don’t misunderstand her; she’s quite content to be with her owners, just as I was happy to hang with my Mom at home instead of running out to play after school. In other words, we indulge this behavior, which probably isn’t endorsed in “Smarter Than You Think.”
We take Remy everywhere with us. Even if we’re heading somewhere that’s not dog-permissive–say, a restaurant or a movie–we let her jump into the back of our station wagon because we know she’d prefer it to the lonely confines of our kitchen. Our car is her crate, her safe sanctuary. And yes, we only do this when weather permits, and, yes, we always crack all the windows and check on her regularly, and we never do this in big cities, but up in the country. By and large, though, most other establishments, especially up there, not only allow dogs, they love dogs. Furniture stores, hardware stores, ski shops–big dog loving country.
So, as often happens after continuous rounds of enthusiastic welcomes and praise, we started pushing the envelope.We’d bring her to parties, sheepishly revealing that our cute dog was in the car. “Bring her in!” the hosts would shout (They couldn’t exactly be schmucks and refuse, right?). We brought her to the Jacobs Pillow Ballet Dance Festival opening gala dinner and the crowd went wild (in a good way). Ballerinas love standard poodles. Who knew?
A few weeks ago, we were up in Portland, Maine, so we decided to drive to the LL Bean company store in Freeport. “They’re going to love her!” we agreed, bounding toward the entrance, only to find a “No Dogs Allowed Except Service Dogs” sticker on the front door.
Here is where Bertrand and I differ. I am a rule follower, to the point of fearing arrest any time he wants to do anything that, legally, isn’t allowed. But, we’re not talking illegal things like selling drugs or robbing a bank. Things more like heading up a driveway to get a better look at a house that’s for sale (“What if the owners are home???”) or, well, taking your dog into a store that says “No dogs allowed.”
But I really needed a fourth pair of duck boots, so when he shrugged and said, “Let’s just go in,” we did.
For the first five minutes, no one stopped us. If anyone noticed Remy, it was curious shoppers, not staffers. After Bertrand headed over to men’s shoes, I transformed into Mike, the “Smarter Than You Think” Canine Taskmaster, pulling in the slack on Remy’s leash and assuming my sternest poker face.
As we walked through the massive store, I’d speak Remy’s sit command every ten feet or so, and sit she would. Bear in mind, when you’re playing Service Dog Trainer, it helps if your dog can play Service Dog as well as a real service dog would. “Good girl,” I’d say in my stone-cold bitch voice, and then we’d move on to the parka department.
The first four or five employees backed off when they saw my “Don’t interrupt our training session” expression, until one didn’t.
“Excuse me,” said a store manager with hair like Kristin Wig’s Target character. “Is your dog a service dog?”
“She’s a service dog in training,” I replied (Don’t fuck with our training session, lady). In my mind, “in training” explained the lack of an official vest (which made no sense because even dogs in training wore vests, but whatever)
“Ok, thanks!” she smiled, then did what anyone who understands “service dog in training” knows not to do: she bent down and pet my dog-student. The Mike in me could feel the words edging toward my lips.
“Please don’t…” I started.
She looked up, continuing to rub Remy’s ear.
I took a deep breath. “Please don’t tell anybody she’s really not a service dog,” I whispered with a sheepish shrug.
Bertrand was wrong. I was going to get arrested.
Before she could say anything, I made the let’s go! clicking sound and led her toward the door, short lead in one hand, Bean boots pair No. 4 in the other. I’d have to order my parka on line.