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|This Land is My Land|
|by Topher Payne|
|October 15, 2010 00:00|
It’s a rare night off, and I’m having some quality time with my husband and my dog. The three of us are all engaged in our favorite modes of relaxation — Daisy’s monitoring squirrel activity, Preppy’s playing Angry Birds, I’m finding out if Lindsay Lohan ran over any baby carriages today. The calm is broken by Preppy jumping up from the table, bellowing.
“Daisy! Leave it! Damn it, Topher, she’s got my shoe!”
“Well, you shouldn’t have taken it off.”
“Whose side are you on here?”
Chasing Daisy and retrieving items while screaming is what qualifies as exercise in our family. I am, of course, ruining this animal. Preppy grew up with dogs (also chickens, as a point of interest), so for him Daisy is just another in a long line of canine companions. But Daisy is my first — the dog I waited three decades to call my very own. And I let her get away with murder. When she decides to take a stroll on our dining room table, Preppy firmly tells her to get down. When I see her do it, I take a picture and post it on Facebook.
If we try to kiss in front of her, she bounds over and inserts herself into the middle of it. Which was cute the first 500 times, but it’s grown a bit tiresome.
All the books we’ve read, and that dog-whispering fellow from the TV, claim dogs actually crave discipline and boundaries. When the dog respects the boundary, you reward the behavior. This establishes you as the pack leader, and then your pet is simply delighted to fulfill any request.
This has not been our experience. Daisy does not crave boundaries. She craves cheese. We are not the alpha dogs. We’re just dudes with cheese. She has sense of entitlement rarely seen outside of Bravo reality shows. The cheese is not a reward, it is her birthright. If we approach her without it, she behaves as though we haven’t been properly introduced.
I can relate to this. I used to have a major crush on a cheese expert at Whole Foods, until one night I ran into him at a bar and realized he wasn’t half as appealing without a wheel of Wensleydale in his hands.
As Daisy dashes around the yard in her horribly skewed version of fetch, our neighbor Anita approaches the fence. Anita is an actual real live crazy person. When she’s on her meds, she waves to us and compliments some aspect of our appearance. When she’s off her meds, she screams about the listening devices we planted under her house. It was alarming at first, but she keeps her yard neat so we don’t make an issue of it.
“Three feet of this yard is mine!” she announces without preamble, leaving no doubt that someone neglected to hit the Walgreen’s for her refill. She’s referring to our side of the fence. Which is clearly not hers, because it’s on our side of the fence. That’s one of the reasons people put up fences, you know? To clarify these things.
Preppy is the designated communicator when Anita is having an episode, because he works retail and deals with nutjobs on a daily basis. He offers to produce a copy of our land plat, which he’d gotten when we closed on the house. Anita does a quick consult with the voices in her head and determines Preppy’s plan is flawed, as he could have altered the documents. To be fair, the voices have a point. She waves her arms in disgust and retreats into her house.
“Boundaries, Topher,” says Preppy as he grabs his shoe and I restrain the dog. “They exist for a reason.”
In the moment, I’m hard-pressed to disagree. The one thing saving us from the full-throttle force of Anita’s madness is the very clear border anyone could observe. And the reason we live with a feral animal is, frankly, me. Daisy doesn’t need boundaries. I do.
“I will do better,” I say, pretty much meaning it.
“Good,” says Preppy, returning to his Angry Birds. “It’d be nice to kiss you without interruption.”
And now I really mean it. All I needed was the promise of a reward.
Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at topherpayne.com.
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