Monthly Archives: September 2014

Size Matters

I walk my dog every single day. After nearly 7 years of this routine, we have met hundreds (possibly thousands) of other dogs. My pooch has sniffed the privates of every kind of canine: dogs so clean you’d eat off their fur and dogs that just rolled in something long dead. Dogs so excited to say “hi!” that they spontaneously urinate, and dogs that acknowledge us with a dignified swish of the tail. Furry faces hidden in soft mounds of fluff and nearly hairless hounds. Perfect purebred specimens and mutts of unidentifiable origin. Adolescent dogs and geriatric dogs. Dogs the size of bears and little dogs that look like toys.

Those are the ones that really scare us.

When they see us coming, they snarl their tiny lips, snap their tiny jaws, and unleash a cacophony of yipping that puts all decent-sized dogs within a square mile on high alert.small-dog-big-dog

Dogs intuitively understand what I learned only after years of collecting quantitative and qualitative data: the amount of evil inside a dog is inversely proportional to the weight in pounds of that dog.

Of course there are exceptions – some little dogs learn to control their wicked impulses for the sake of family harmony. Close family friends adopted a darling 8-pound Maltese who tolerates Mitch just fine but does not hesitate to display unbridled aggression towards other big dogs.

I happen to love the larger breeds. The most noble, heroic dogs always top the size charts. Think Lassie, Balto, and Rin Tin Tin. Consider the childhood stories of kids and dogs – the Henry and Mudge books (Mudge the mastiff is 200 pounds of muscle and drool) and the Little Rascals with their pit bull. A pit bull! Notice the show’s producers didn’t try to cast a Chihuahua or a Pekinese in the role of Pete. They had to think of the safety of their child actors.

On our daily walks, Mitch and I have learned to watch out for those we call “The Tiny Ones.” When a small dog approaches, Mitch moves to whichever side of me is furthest from the little demon. He’s been burned too many times by deceptive innocent cuteness that precedes the surprise assault.

The only dog that’s ever seriously attacked him was A Tiny One. Oblivious to the 60-plus pound size differential between him and Mitch, he came after us with a vengeance and latched on to my poor sweet giant like a rabid mongoose. Only after his frazzled owner came to the rescue did the perpetrator cease his attack. He was carried away like a demon-possessed babe in arms, still seething and wriggling to get back in the fight. Of course the owner glared at me like MY dog started it. As if!

Such events are not rare. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania determined that the three most aggressive breeds of dogs are Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, and Jack Russell terriers.mad_dog

Surprised? I was, too. I would have guessed Chihuahuas were number one.

Is it anthropomorphism to suggest that these dogs suffer from a Napoleon complex? Embarrassed by their delicate paws, microscopic (if razor-sharp) teeth, and small stature, they have a lot of compensating to do. Their limited dignity is further degraded by accessories like doggie sweaters, miniature raingear, and the variety of bows and barrettes affixed to their nasty little heads. Of course they are mean. What else could they be?

Perhaps due to their undersized brains, little dogs believe if they act big and mean, they will become big and mean. But Mitch and I see past the façade. They are not big, only mean. They are mean because they are small.  There is no denying the fundamental truth about dogs.

Size matters.

The author's dog is the handsome, LARGE one in the middle of the pack.

The author’s dog is the handsome, LARGE one in the middle of the pack. Wagging his tail.

The Detroit Lions: My New Back-up Plan

It is a truth universally acknowledged (in my family) that every September my overall mood begins to track a little too closely to the success (or lack thereof) of a certain football team. When my team wins, I’m elated and hopeful and spend my spare time planning the inevitable January Bowl Game trip. When my team loses, I mope and brood and develop a back-up plan for my significant sports-directed energy.

Last weekend, my back-up plan began to break down.

This is painful to write so I will type it quickly with my eyes closed: my beloved Michigan Wolverines lost in the very worst way to Notre Dame last Saturday. Playing under the lights (and under the suspiciously biased gaze of Touchdown Jesus), we were shut out 31-0 in the final game of a storied rivalry series.

I commenced my personal journey thought the Five Stages of Grief.

  1. Denial.  That couldn’t have just happened; I must have been dreaming.
  2. Anger.  Where on earth was the defense – do any of these kids actually deserve a football scholarship?
  3. Bargaining.  If only we had played at home, we would have won. Can’t we extend the series against Notre Dame by one more year?
  4. Depression.  The best days are surely behind us. Michigan will never be a football powerhouse again. The coach will get fired and we’ll have a revolving door of mediocre staff and players until I am cold in the grave.
  5. Acceptance.  If my team can’t win, I will cheer for other worthy teams. What other good games are on?

Lucky for me, there WERE other good games on. I executed my back-up plan.

USC vs. Stanford caught my attention. I always like to see USC lose, ever since they beat Michigan in the 1990 Rose Bowl. And Stanford is so easy to like, with their high academic standards and that crazy tree mascot.

Then Stanford lost.

So I turned to the rest of the Big Ten conference and the prospects of Michigan State, a team I always like to see victorious (well, almost always). They were in a close match against #3 ranked Oregon, but it wasn’t close for long.

Michigan State lost.

Ever hopeful, I looked forward to Sunday. The weekend was not totally shot, because the Patriots were scheduled to play their season opener against the Miami Dolphins. I knew Tom Brady would not let me down. The Patriots don’t lose to the likes of the Dolphins.

But the Patriots did lose. Disastrously. Tom Brady was sacked 4 times in the second half. Just when I thought the weekend couldn’t get any worse, the Red Sox lost, too.

I worried I might actually have to learn something about tennis and become interested in the US Open, but I feared that rooting for anyone at this point was just cruel. I was clearly jinxed.

Then on Monday night, a glimmer of hope and possibility came from the unlikeliest of places.

The Detroit Lions beat the New York Giants, 35-14.

Under normal circumstances, I might have only given this victory passing notice, but when that time clock struck 00:00 I felt like a lost desert wanderer who discovered a freshwater spring. Finally!

I’m not entirely new to Lions fandom. My parents are from Michigan and my husband is from Detroit. But being a Lions fan wasn’t really something anyone talked about (at least, not proudly). The team was best known as the background entertainment on TV during our annual Thanksgiving after-dinner food coma. No one really expected them to win. The game was an existential exercise: the Lions had to play and lose so everyone could complain about the Lions losing.

Fast forward to this week. After many losses and many disappointments, I am cautiously optimistic about a team that looks surprisingly good. I will watch the Lions on Sunday not only because they are my back-up plan, but also because I am a fan.

I hope I’m in a good mood on Monday.

calvin johnson