I want to catcall dogs.
I’ve never understood men in passing cars catcalling women on the street. What a terrible way to get a date.
My catcalls to dogs will surely be different. I envision myself driving past a beautiful dog on an afternoon walk with its owner. I’ll roll down my window and affectionately call out I love your dog! Unfortunately, this can easily be misconstrued as a catcall to the owner, possibly the animal lover’s version of hey baby, and I am not that kind of person.
My Life With Cats in Dogtown
For the better part of two decades, I lived in a small dog-friendly city that had been gentrified to within an inch of its former working-class seaport life. Today the city is a consistent winner in Best Town for Dogs and Their People polls. It is heavily populated by childfree, educated couples with money, careers, and dogs, couples who frequent events such as Best Yappy Hour on the Avenue and the occasional Canine Booze Cruise. These affairs commonly feature signature cocktails and craft beer for the humans and locally sourced biscuits for the dogs. The city also features a popular annual Costumed Pet Procession at Halloween and a similarly festive St. Pat’s and Pooches Parade in March.
I spent the better part of two decades living with cats in the friendliest of dog-friendly cities. I identified myself as a cat lady, basking in quirky cat-lover stereotypes like sweet white wine, knitting, and New York Times trade fiction best sellers. Please note that these things are still entertaining, however, I now enjoy them with my dog. Sweet white wine is a friend to all species.
I fancied myself catlike as opposed to dogesque. I was cunning, sly and reserved, demanding attention yet dispensing it selectively to those who provided the most superior treats. Cats, I knew, could be left alone, could use the litter box without a leash and a walk, and never required their owners to bathe them. Alternately, I imagined dog people to be loud, sloppy, and rambunctious folks who wore down vests, owned Jeeps and were probably really good in PE class in elementary school. Being a cat person, my cats slept in bed with me, and the thought of filthy dog paws anywhere near my sheets was horrific. I was a cat person, the polar opposite of a dog person, and all was well in Catland.
In a Live Performance of This Piece
In a live performance of this piece, an 18-year-old cat in failing health with a faraway gaze and a silent meow would quietly exit stage right. The lights would dim, nary a dry eye would be found in the theater, and the actress in the lead role would dramatically convey that no cat would ever curl up on her pillow again. Suddenly a puppy would appear in the spotlight on stage left, fluffy, bounding, and graceless. The lights would shine like the sun, and the audience would know that the circle of life had completed another round. In the final scene, the actress would trade her sleek and feline knitting needles for a down vest and a Jeep with the fluffy, bounding, and graceless puppy in the front seat. As the curtain fell, the Jeep would be seen speeding offstage into a rollicking and slobbery outdoor adventure.
Now I’m Wearing a Down Vest
I am a well-adjusted and highly functioning middle-aged adult. Adults of this ilk rarely choose to reinvent ourselves because we know who we are and our identities are clearly defined. When we do go on odyssey’s of self-discovery, the pilgrimages involve either yoga, joining a CrossFit gym, unexpectedly buying a motorcycle, or getting matching tattoos with our children who are home on semester breaks from college. For me, the reinvention came in the form of the fluffy puppersnapper who raised the stage lights to sunshine.
I’d previously met dogs but haven’t we all? Cat gals usually befriend other cat gals who share their wine and cat fur with no dogs invited to the party. Not anymore. When my beloved cat exited stage right and a small black and tan puppy entered stage left, it was suddenly dogs, dogs everywhere. All dogs, all the time. Now that I had a dog of my own on a leash, other dogs appeared out of nowhere, and my apartment was filled with puppy drool and dog paws, bed sheets be damned.
The Mothering Instinct of a Corpse Beetle
I don’t have children, and as a child, I didn’t play mama to a baby doll. Instead, while other girls were playing dolls, I was reading Stephen King novels, wishing to be twenty and to have my own apartment. Sure, babies are cute from a distance if I have to comment and don’t want you to ask any more questions but none for me, please. Seriously. I’m one of those strange birds with the mothering instinct of a corpse beetle. While the corpse beetle may not have a documented lack of maternal instinct, do you really think something called a corpse beetle is a good mom?
While not overnight, my corpse beetle mothering instinct evolved into a seemingly tangible manifestation of love which allowed me to describe my dog to others as my birth dog. The feeling of having a birth dog is akin to what I imagine new parents feel when seeing their human offspring for the first time. I quickly realized that to people with a brood of their own, the concept of a birth dog doesn’t fly. What does fly, however, is beginning the birth dog conversation with I can’t have kids, so my dog is my kid. That flies, let me tell you what. It garners smiles laced with thinly veiled pity as parents feel sorry that I have to play pretend mommy to a dog. I imagine they think I’ll never truly know love which causes me to smugly reflect upon their childhood baby doll games and my childhood desire to have an apartment. Who gets the last laugh here? All of us, I suppose.
The Time I Turned into a She-Wolf
I’ve had one opportunity to spring into volatile and protective mothering she-wolf action when my birth dog was threatened. Allow me to pause here; please know that I’ve never been in a physical altercation. I’ve never had a screaming match in public or a drunken barroom incident, and I generally leave a trail of kindness and good manners in my wake. It was on a sunny afternoon, shortly after I realized I had a birth dog, that I understood my maternal instinct had blossomed and now far surpassed that of the corpse beetle.
Picture a city block replete with boutiques, historic brick buildings, old-fashioned ice cream shoppes, and sidewalk cafes filled with scores of tourists and couples enjoying a balmy mid-summer weekend. Imagine now, if you will, al fresco diners looking up from their plates of grass-fed beef and farm-to-table vegetables in an attempt to identify the source of a sudden and explosive stream of one-sided obscenities.
The cafe patrons saw no commotion on the sidewalk, no scuffle or crowd, just an enraged woman with a puppy. They may have fleetingly seen a diminutive elderly man in a tracksuit and terry cloth headband dashing through the tourists at the type of breakneck speed achieved only by seniors who have passionately incorporated exercise and terry cloth headbands into their daily routines.
My pup was still small, fluffy, and the type of puppy-cute that stops men and women on the street. We were trotting through the tourists at a leisurely I’m a puppy pace when a hand unexpectedly jerked my pup’s leash up and flung her toward me. The upwards snap of the leash lifted her front legs far off the ground, and the small elderly perpetrator hurried past us without a glance. Before I had time to consider the incident with normal, civilized adult clarity customarily used in crowded public places, a she-wolf, the real and true mother of the birth dog, burst forth. I suddenly became a fierce and protective canine guardian who cleared the sidewalk with an eruption of impulsive and unrestrained vulgarity. I hurled the curses of the ages at the man’s back without conscious thought, reacting only to a visceral protective instinct that two long decades of cat ownership had failed to produce. One small and downy puppy with tiny teeth and big eyes had triumphantly tapped into this part of my consciousness before she was even potty trained.
I can only assume that the leash had been jerked because the antique miscreant was barreling down the middle of the sidewalk and attempted to walk between my pup and me, thereby putting her leash directly in his path. Typically, one may think to go around obstacles however if one possesses superior athletic inclinations, they may consider it not out of the question to leap over an obstacle. As I possess only a moderate athletic ability, heading directly into an obstacle is the last option I’d consider. I am not, however, an octogenarian who is hell-bent on getting my daily exercise if it’s the last thing I ever do. My foul indecencies aside, he barely escaped with his life, and by barely escaped I mean that he just kept walking while I howled at his back. As my fervor wound down and I watched him disappear amongst the tourists, I imagined him turning toward me, raising a clenched fist in the air, and bellowing you kids get off my lawn!
Your Dog. Can I Say Hello to Your Dog?
My new life as a dog person includes a vest and a Jeep, and I’m often in environments where dogs bring their people to frolic, sniff things, strain on leashes at the sight of other dogs, and pee and poop in public. During these glorious occasions, I regularly approach dogs and ask their people if I can say hello. I’m by no means a dog expert, however, I do understand that you must ask before petting an unfamiliar dog. In one graceful and well-practiced maneuver, I approach, generally looking at the dog, hand poised to extend for sniffing, and ask the owner if I can say hello. When the answer is yes, I remove my sunglasses and transform into the type of person who lets strange dogs sniff and lick their hands. I stroke the heads of these dogs, scratch behind their ears, and I lovingly croon to each them; oh, you’re such a little puppersnapper.
I recently stopped at a rural barn sale. Never having been to a barn sale, I suspected correctly that it was a yard sale held in a barn, not a barn for sale. There was one large dog in attendance, and I made a beeline, rather, I made a dogline toward it. I approached in my usual fashion and asked the owner if I could say hello. She smiled warmly, said “Yes, of course, hello,” and extended her hand. I have no way of knowing if this type of greeting is a barn sale custom or if this was a woman who’s never had a dog mom approach and ask to visit with her dog. Some rural dogs, I’ve heard, may relax in outdoor dog houses, even sleep outside on a regular basis, perform farm and hunting jobs, and have owners who are parents to human children only. These rural dogs are considered pets, not puppersnappers. In this instance, pet owners would never assume they’ve encountered a dog mom who wants to say hello specifically to the dog. Was this woman like that? Was this a rural pet dog?
“Yes, of course, hello,” said the smiling woman. Her extended hand and welcoming smile gave me a moment’s pause; however, I was not to be deterred. Returning an equally warm smile, I extended my hand not toward the woman but toward the dog for its usual and customary sniffing. “Your dog,” I said. “Can I say hello to your dog?”
I Want to Catcall Dogs
Often in environments where dogs bring their people, it isn’t convenient for me to say hello and tell every dog in sight that they’re such a little puppersnapper. In these instances, I experience a mild version of what is commonly known on social media as the Fear of Missing Out. I’m not missing out on digital accounts of vacations, job promotions, or happy hours and brunches. Instead, I’m simply missing out on saying hello to every dog I see.
I want to catcall dogs, but not to roll down my window and yell I love your dog! Rather, I love your dog is my drive-by equivalent of an extended hand and “Can I say hello?” Vaguely similar to the non-possibility that a man in a passing car can hoot hey baby at a woman and get a phone number, my I love your dog! catcall would end with a sniff of the hand, a scratch behind the ears, and a gently whispered oh, you’re such a little puppersnapper.
T. J. Butler lives on a sailboat with her husband and dog. She writes short fiction that is not all fun and games. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and a contributor to Tiny House Magazine. Her work appears or is forthcoming in the Maryland Writers Association 30th Anniversary Anthology, Barren, Flash Fiction Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic, Pen in Hand, and others. TJButlerAuthor.com @aGalWithNoName