Last summer I got a dog. I wasn’t planning on it, it just sort of happened. I had been thinking about a dog for years. As a child, my father had gotten us one, while we were living in Algeria, his assignment as a technical engineer exchange program for the National Iranian Oil Company.
We lived in a beach-side residential area on the southern Mediterranean, and the puppy we got, Alfor, was very soon bitten by a wild dog roaming the sand dunes, rabid as it turned out, and after a week or so, Alfor showed up outside our house again, but with the telltale signs of foam at the mouth, dirty, bloody, exhausted, and unresponsive to our calls. So, my Dad called the Gendarmes to come out and shoot it. I can still hear the shots and the howling.
After our father’s assignment was up, we returned to Iran, and lived there through the rest of Shah years, and part of the revolution, but we never mentioned getting another dog again. My brother, Kambiz and I had all but erased the bad experience of Alfor from our memories.
Last year though, as if by some per-ordained omnipotent act of a higher being exerting her decades dormant purpose on us, both Kambiz and I, unbeknownst to the other, without talking about it, at almost the same time, each of us, got a dog.
I say this hesitantly because, as a result, I am not so sure it was a choice after all. One that either of us made entirely on our own.
We both have daughters, and as such have a connection to a life-force and being that is at once damning and darling. In my case the nagging to get a puppy had been going on for the past 5 years, and wasn’t getting any less loud.
Meanwhile, as I got older, and naturally more cynical, my connection to and willingness to be guided by any sort of spiritual faith, had all but fizzled, thanks in great part to the greatest swindle in history, the best case for 0% proof of God, and 100% proof of irony, namely the Iranian “revolution”.
So you could say I wasn’t in any mental shape to become some sort of believer.
Until this past summer.
Pressure by my daughter Sophie had been building steam since the beginning of summer. We had put off a vacation this year, having been to Italy the summer prior, so everyone wanted a bit of a break, and going to the local pool every day, and barbecuing dinner on the backyard patio, sounded simply great to us.
“Perfect time to get a dog, right Daddy?” Sophie said, in that way she talks to me whenever I am being sold something we probably don’t need.
“We’ll see.” I would always say, trying to smile a wise Daddy smile, I don’t ever seem to be able to pull off with any credibility.
We had driven past a farm for years which had the unobtrusive sign outside the wide driveway gate that said simply, “Border Collie Pups”. Nothing. No reaction. Just another sign on just another winding road, traveled only occasionally to avoid the occasional accident on the freeway.
In June, as summer settled into a nice repetitive routine of hot day, warm night, I took Sophie for a ride. We like to ride in the car, talking and listening to her (not my) music, and I found us driving along the winding road, and instead of swinging past the farm with the puppy sign, I pulled in this time, quickly, and parked under a large oak tree, for the shade.
She looked at me, grinned a grin that had been carefully cultivated for 12 years, and quickly we both got out of the car and started walking towards the large white house at the end of large front open field yard, a graveyard, of dead soccer balls.
Almost immediately we were greeted by individual adult Border Collies of every shade and size. I will call these “The Apostles and Saints”. Because each had a different character and seeming message.
One speckled grey and orange male ran up to sniff us excitedly with a toothy grin, dripping tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, as if to say, “Enjoy Life, because I sure am!”, and then took off into the field to follow some other scent.
A tri-colored black, white and tan, walked around us eying us cautiously, just barely out of our reach, and as if to say, “Why are you here? You don’t believe.”
A black and white with wild flashing eyes and half a soccer ball in his mouth, trotted in a circle around us then dropped the ball promptly at our feet. “Pick it up” he seemed to say. I picked up the ball. “Toss it to me.” he said. I tossed the saliva soaked ball at him. He immediately bumped it with his snout right back into my surprised waiting hands. A big wide crazy grin now matched his crazy eyes. “Toss, and you shall receive.” he said, as he took his ball and ran off into the field.
A sweet grey female with one blue eye the other brown, walked serenely up to my daughter and nuzzled her snout in the open innocent hands of the 12 year old girl, who cradled her head gently. Serenity.
Around us the rest of the 12 dogs, yes I counted twice, 12, spun about, some eager and jumping up on us, some timid, watching with clear doubt and debate in the distance. The entire farm a teeming Tibetan temple of blissful, China-free, care-free, canine monks.
As we approached the house, we could see the large garage-barn to the right of it, the garage door, open about a foot off the ground. From under the door, we could see small furry knees and paws scurrying back and forth like a kindergarten play, in and out of the shade of the hot summer sunlight.
Suddenly, two furry heads peeked out from under the door, and a black and white and brown and white trotted confidently up to us, sniffed at us with mild interest and began to stumble towards the action that was fast developing among the older dogs in full run, in the field.
As they tried to keep up with the larger dogs, the pups would occasionally get trodden upon, and would fall head first into the dirt, get up, shake their dusty heads, and continue to try to get in the game once again. With the same result.
Little did I know that this was in fact, precisely their trick. The pups, especially that brown and white one, implied and taunted us to dare to protect and care for them.
It was after all, entirely in our power and choice, to prevent them from being trampled. To care.
I was of course, averse to such trickery, having once debated an actual Mollah after the revolution, in Iran, head on. I pitched my reasonably well argued position that Mohammad’s premise of Eslam was nothing more than a grand scam of the combined iconology of the world’s other religions and folklore that he had cleverly accumulated, in his travels as the foreman of his wife’s caravans. He had perfected each one’s weaknesses, and repackaged it for the yearning of Arab consumption. Prayer was merely calisthenics, to deliver a healthy body along with the soul, to Allah. Not eating pork a mere sign of the trichinotic times. Condemning the Dog as haram, the very proof of the fallibility and insecurity of the God argument.
So now, here on this farm, I would not be fooled by such an obvious display of the Godhead ponzi-scheme, certainly not by no dirty dusty dogs!
And so, before Sophie was lost forever to the dark side, I quickly keeshed and korralled her and we got in the car and left. As I drove out of the farm, I found myself breathing hard. “Must have been a bit of a hill climb to the car.” I told myself.
Days later, I found myself thinking of the farm again and again. The faces and expressions of the dogs and pups haunting me as I tried to move about my day.
Over the coming week, Sophie and I made 3 more “pilgrimages” to the farm, trying to push aside the persistent apostles and saints, who dutifully preached the same cute sermons to us each time, as we parked and walked to the garage to see the pups who kept growing cuter with each visit.
The brown and white consistently drawing us in closer and closer, as if for a merciful snare and kill, we now longed for. Or maybe, it was just me that longed to be caught and put out of my misery.
On one of the final visits, the brown and white came up to us, and suddenly shifted and rubbed it’s fuzzy head against my shin. A bow and slightest tap of her cold button-nosed snout sent an electric shock through my flip flop clad toes.
Painfully I reached down and held the round soft head in my hand, and she looked up slowly, and seemed to say, “I know. You didn’t think it could happen to you. But it’s OK, it’s been a long time, and don’t worry, we’re going to be all right.”
Suddenly scared, I pulled my hand back quickly, and let Sophie chase after the now scampering puppy into the yard. My heart was pounding in my chest again, and my head was now spinning ever so slightly. This time too, I blamed it on the hill-climb once again, plus a hot mid-day sun. As if not by choice, I Hajj’d my way to the house to knock on the porch screen-door.
A grey-streaked-haired woman of about sixty appeared with a twinkling blue-eyed smile.
“Howdy!” She said, with a trademark typical farm-like manner. For a minute, I swore I could smell fried chicken, fresh corn, buttermilk biscuits, ‘n’ gravy. Maybe even some fresh shelled peas! Please?
“I see you’ve met the puppies!” she said with a knowing smile.
“How much?” I asked.
And that’s pretty much how I came to believe in Dog.