You are somewhat embarrassed. An entire book? About you? What must have they been thinking?
They call you Dog. They call you Rex and Rover and Spike and Ishmael. You are Clive and Spot and Sparky and Belvedere and Lucy and Gracie and Princess. And you are none of these. You are just you. You have only one name for yourself. It has no translation into speakable, human words, but if it were translated into speakable, human words, it would come closest to "You."
You do not identify yourself with the other names that have been given you (Jack, Bootsie, Stanley, Sadie, Blackie, Patrice), by your people or by others (Ruff Ruff, Pretzel, Duchess), though you do recognize that these are meant to be names, of a sort, but in that troubling language that makes little sense to you. You wonder, sometimes, how people communicate at all.
These are some of the names that have recently been given you that, though not your true name, are human approximations, and you admit that though humans are confusing and confounding, they are worth having, so you respond to these names immediately and enthusiastically. Here they are. Not all of them. Just some of them. Here:
Not actually a name so much as a designation, your people, or some other people who are not your people, will nevertheless call you this upon occasion, and it is one of the names you recognize. She Who Seldom Drops Food on the Floor might say something like this: "You are a dog." You are sitting before her, waiting for her to drop food on the floor. You are in the kitchen, examining the process of slicing cheese. She Who Seldom Drops Foodon the Floor is slicing cheese and placing the slices into sandwiches for the children (and sandwiches for the children are always a good source of found or otherwise coerced food).
She does not throw you a slice of cheese. Instead she crosses the kitchen and says, "You are a dog." She comes directly toward you, and you watch her closely. "Move," she says. She pushes you out of the way because she knows that if she doesn't, you will continue to wait there and she won't be able to get to the sink. When she returns to the cutting board from the sink, you are sitting instead in front of the cutting board. "Ack," she says. "I said," she says,"didn't you hear me . . . ? Go lie down. I'm not giving you any cheese." She pushes you again-a nudge, actually, with her knee-and tosses a corner of cheese into the dining room that she knows you will follow. Apparently you did just what she wanted you to do. Cheese is your favorite and most treasured reward.
They sometimes call you Pup. You pretend not to know that the name is diminutive, that it means anything other than respect and love. Which is, of course, exactly what it means. You can tell by the intonation that the name is diminutive, that it is affectionate. Especially when He Who Calls You Pup calls you Pup, when he rubs your head and calls you Pup and then scratches your jowls and puts his face in your face, at which time you lick his cheeks and nose (and he often allows this), still scratching, still making the sound that comes from somewhere deep inside him that means, "love love and love." He can call you whatever he likes and you will lick him and he will feed you and call you Pup.
Of all the names. What does this mean? You don't like the sound of it, though you try not to show that you don't like the sound of it. Seldom will you show any kind of offense to this name. Seldom, actually, do you show any kind of offense to anything, except when offense is first offered by a cat. Then you will return the utmost offense to the cat by ignoring her. The cat does not understand this as offense, though, because cats, though beautiful,are crazy.
What? Do they know who they are talking to? Mutt? Did he say Mutt? Or did he drop something? What was that? What an odd thing. Is that a name? It sounds like a noise. Like an expression of what it is. Like a dropped wet towel. What an odd thing.
They have another name for you that they use most often (Sam, Chevy, Pete), and you understand this is what they think your real name is (Sheba, Abby, Nestle). You know that when they call you this name and you come to them immediately, you will receive some kind of reward from one of your people, such as their attention or a handful of kibble or a small cut-up piece of hot dog (though this last is very rare).
Except, of course, sometimes you will not get a reward. Sometimes when they call you and you think you are going to be rewarded, they are actually going to put you outside because they are leaving for the day and they expect you to stay outside without them. They will be gone all day, and they tell you this in their ridiculous people language, so that you do not know what it is they are saying...though you understand the tone of voice means they are leaving, and you imagine they will be gone for many many years, and in fact you may never see them again, so you go to the gate and you lie where you can be seen as they leave but where it will not be suspected that you plan to escape or chew a child's toy into such small pieces that the toy will be unidentifiable. You are deciding now, as they leave, if you should choose escape or toy. Escape or toy.
Has it been a few moments since they've been gone or a few hours?
What's the difference? And what is that?
Water falling from the sky.
You are being punished for your thoughts. You must ask for forgiveness. You must seek shelter.
You have been outside for many hours. It has rained, but now the sun is out and the wind is blowing. You bite at the wind. You wait at the gate when you are not barking at a cat or squirrel or tree branch. They will be home any minute or they will be gone for days. They will be gone forever, and you will never be fed again and you will have to find your own food. Every minute you are aware that they might never return. Every minute you are aware that they could be home any second. Any second now. Is that them? No. Not them. Still not them.
You are the original dog. You are every dog and no dog. What kind of dog are you? You are the kind who can remember your ancestors, can remember your mother, can remember your mother's mother, can remember your mother's mother's mother. It is not difficult to have this kind of memory. You understand that it is difficult for many species to remember. But for you it is impossible to think of yourself without thinking of all your past, of the village mothers and fathers who were original dogs, original people companions, living with and alongside and among the people. Helping them. You know that you are helping. You are glad to be helping. What would they be without you?
Some dogs, you know, find it difficult to remember their past, to have any kind of relationship with Those Who Came Before. Some of these dogs are even distantly related to you, but they do not recognize this, and therefore do not indicate any knowledge of common ancestry. You wish you could show them somehow that there is no need to forget everything just to live with humans. There is no need to act so stupid.
You wonder if they can live full lives without this memory. You wonder if something is missing in them. Something quintessentially dog must be missing. You always treat these dogs as nicely as possible, and you try not to stare. You feel sorry for them, and you hope it doesn't show when you do stare, or you hope it doesn't show that you are trying not to stare when you are trying not to stare.
To keep track of your people, you have many names for them. Most of these names are sense names. They are sight and sound and smell names. Again, these cannot be truly translated, but you have some reasonable approximations, which you are happy to share.
Your People's Names
Those Who Would Bathe You
He Who Would Bathe You Quickly So as to Get It Over With
Those Who Would Feed You
Those Who Would Pet You
He Who Would Scratch Unscratchable Places
She Who Would Walk You Off the Lead
He Who Would Throw the Ball but for Whom You Will Not Drop the Ball
She Who Would Refill the Water Dish
He Who Smells of Garlic, Tastes of Salt, and Will Let You Lick His Feet
She Who Does Not Allow Licking Ever
She Who Drops Food from Her Plate
He Who Leaves the Seat Up So That You Might Drink
Dog names are too complex as translated into the language of your people. Though each is translated into words above, to prevent confusion, there are no real "words" associated with each name in your mind, and the concept of a name being translated into words is foreign to you. The association is sense only, and the sense is remembered in the organ that senses it: odor in your nose or touch in your skin or taste on your tongue or sight in your eyes or sound in your ears or knowledge (gnosis) way deep down in your dogness.
The Sense of Gnosis
You have a sense that you are pretty sure your people do not have, and it is the sense of gnosis, or knowledge. It is difficult to describe to those who do not experience it firsthand, but it is the most reliable of all your senses. You feel it in the most reliable of places. You feel it in the part of you that makes you You. You feel it in your dogness. You are a dog, and all dogs have this sense, and all dogs have access to this dogness. Not all dogs use this access, however; it has been worn away by time and the lack of need for it. It has been worn away by indiscriminate and unlikely misuse.
Each of your people has several individual sense names, but this is not confusing to you, because it is not a matter for your brain, as you've already mentioned, but a matter of sense memory.
He Who Leaves the Seat Up So That You Might Drink
This is your favorite name for him, though he, too, has many. When you are downstairs, alone, and headed toward the bathroom, you hope that he has been the last to use the seat. Often, he has. Each night, this is generally the last name you give him before going to bed, and this name will be on your mind when you wake. At this time he becomes He Who Lets You Outside So That You May Pee. Sometimes you have to wake him so that he will let you out so that you can pee. If this is the case, before he is He Who Lets You Outside So That You May Pee, he is first He Who Pushes You Away Saying, "Dammit, Don't Lick My Damn Face."
She Who Pretends to Be Angry When You Jump Onto the Bed to Greet Her
When you jump onto the bed to greet her, she uses the voice that is supposed to mean she is angry, or the voice that is supposed to tell you that though she's using the voice that is supposed to tell you that she's angry, the voice instead means that she does not mind that you've just jumped up onto the bed, and it will be up to someone else to call you down. You sometimes think of her as She Who Means Little but Implies Much.
When you jump onto the bed, the children follow you up, and the cat disappears, and you are all up there in the warmth and the glory, and you will stay there until it becomes clear that the children's antics are going to cause an injury soon, at which point you jump down and go to the closed bathroom door, hoping that whoever used the bathroom last left the seat up, hoping that someone will leave the door open soon. You are so thirsty.
The Baby is also known as She Who Would Climb Over You While You Sleep. She is also She Who Would Pull Your Ears for No Reason Other Than the Pleasure of Pulling Your Ears, and She Who Randomly Flings Food from the Table. She Who Would Climb Over You While You Sleep is a name you use for her as you select a place to lie down. In reality, this name is no longer or shorter than any of the other names, since it is not made up of words but of your emotional response to sensory data. As you are looking for a place to lie down, you are sometimes thinking, Find a place where She Who Would Climb Over You While You Sleep will not climb over you or pull on your ears or otherwise stumble into you. The thinking of these thoughts and the feeling of the emotions associated with them are inseparable, and the name The Baby does not conflict with She Who Would Climb Over You While You Sleep. They are, in effect, the same name.
It should also be noted that there is no such place in the house where she will not climb over you or pull on your ears or otherwise bump into you and wake you up, but you look for it, you search for it, you long for it. Until she actually does climb over you or pull on your ears or otherwise bump into you. Then you are filled with joy at her presence and you lick her face. She has the most flavorful, ever-changing face of all your people. Sometimes salt (good). Sometimes apple (okay). Sometimes peas (yuck). Sometimes milk (yum).
It should also be noted that though The Baby belongs to you, she is not yours. Though she belongs to you, you are not confused. She is not a puppy.
He Who Rides His Bicycle in the Driveway
He also has many other names, such as He Who Puts You Outside When His Friends Visit, or He Who Puts You Inside When He and His Friends Play Outside or He Who Leaps from the Furniture. Most of the time, he pretends to ignore you. But you know better. He picked you from the box and held you first. His scent is imprinted on you, and above all, you will protect him from all harm. Your relationship with him is somewhere between brother and pack leader and father. Although he, too, belongs to you, and of all your people is most like you, he is not of you.
Excerpted from You Are a Dog by Terry Bain. Copyright © 2004 by Terry Bain. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.