The last substantive argument my sister initiated, unlike the little one about whether our cousin Nancy attended our grandmother’s funeral one November afternoon almost thirty years before, involved—as they frequently did—a dog. In this case it was about my dog Buddy, a Bichon Frisé whose pedigree might have been less than pure.
She, my sister, broached the subject on tippy toes. “Have you had the dog’s DNA tested?”
The test is a canine version of 23&Me, a rather ridiculous scam that claims 100 percent accuracy in tracing one’s ethnic and/or racial background. From what I can tell, after having been assessed by the company via a kit with which I had been gifted, is that the company is 100 percent accurate in finding my email in-box at least once a week hoping to sell me additional genetic forays into my biological makeup which the company had completely wrong.
“Why the hell would I do that?”
“To know more about the dog,” she said, adding that “it’s the responsible thing to do.”
The day after adopting Buddy, I looked on the internet to see what I could find out about the breed. It said that the breed is “merry” and “curious” and is renowned for its “gentle mannered, sensitive, playful and affectionate” being.
Since Buddy was all of those things, I decided that I had no need to know if the dog had its origins in the Swiss Alps or the Canary Islands. Besides, I knew that he came from Billings, Montana.
Why my sister chose to characterize my not getting the dog’s DNA test as “irresponsible” is a mystery. The dog doesn’t know anything about its ethnic background and would not care if I chose to tell him.
There are dog people. And then there are DOG people. I’m a member of the first group, so earned by my liking dogs better than cats. It makes me feel good when the dog is glad to see me, and I like to rub them behind their ears. My sister, obviously, was a member of the second group. For years she owned borzois, large dogs who seem to be skeletons with thin layers of wispy hair. I didn’t much care for her dogs. At some point she stopped giving shelter to them and started giving shelter to dogs that had been abandoned.
When she died, she had a border collie mix with a back leg once broken and never tended; it dragged the leg. The other dog was a Jack Russell terrier who exercised his vocal cords enough to create a high-pitched, shrilled screech that only ceased when the dog took a nap. He made me like the other dog.
Mankind’s relationship to dogs as pets is based largely on the environment in which the two live. This is great science I made up when I happened to reminisce about all of the dogs I’ve owned. When I lived in New York City I didn’t have a dog. Most of the people who did had at least a dozen of them. Then I learned that there were profitable businesses that walked the dogs and picked up after them. Since everybody in New York lived in apartments, dogs tended to be small and quiet or huge and showy.
During my first semester in college in Champaign-Urbana I found a German Shepard puppy who was cute and cuddly. I named him Ralph and he held court with several coeds idling on the Quad between classes. I got a couple of dates that way. After a long winter, Ralph was a full-grown dog who was handsome but un-cuddly. He attracted no coeds. And that was my Spring: lonely with a big dog who growled a lot.
Geri and I each brought a dog into our marriage. Hers was a white husky with all the brains of a rock. Mine was a Cairn terrier whose personality was that of a street fighter. That was in Los Angeles where it became de rigueur for women to have dogs that would fit in their purses. It was a curious state to be enjoying a fine luncheon with at least one dog sticking its head out of its purse at every table.
Because of the state of high anxiety that characterizes a town dependent on film success, Los Angeles also became home of “service” pets. These dogs wear vests that warn against petting them. Their owners get to take them on airline trips. Counterfeit vests can be purchased at most pawn shops.
Montanans enjoy dogs on multiple levels. First, there are the ranchers whose dogs tend to be working breeds. In the back of every pickup truck, except for those that have never been driven on a two-track, is a border collie or a blue heeler. Both are agile breeds who like to herd sheep or cattle.
Bird hunters have a wide variety of retrieving dogs, some of which point and flush as well. Golden and black retrievers are mostly used as adorable pets for people with small children. The other ones belong to hunters whose SUVs are generally made by Mercedes-Benz and whose quarry—small as it might be—is celebrated with single-malt bourbon.
My current dog is a silky terrier who earns his keep by letting me know whenever somebody walks past the house.
I’m glad we live on a quiet street.
Photography by Courtney A. Liska
Roasted Parmesan Cabbage
1 large head of green cabbage, cut into 8 wedges
2 Tbs. olive oil
3 Tbs. soy sauce
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Heat your oven to 425 degrees and line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.
Place the cabbage wedges on your prepared baking sheet.
In a small bowl, combine the oil, soy sauce, and all seasonings.
Brush your cabbage wedges with this oil mixture on all sides.
Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese.
Roast for 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway.