The Dog Wagon, Part 2

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, April 20, 2010 | ,

I was at an art opening the other night because my friend's band was playing and ran into a lot of people I hadn't seen in awhile. "So what have you guys been up to?" a few of them asked.

"Well, we have this dog cart. . ."

Frankly, for the last month life hasn't been about much else. Every morning, the kids and the dog get more and more antsy until we take it out. Every afternoon, after the boy naps, we drag it out to the playground and gradually all the neighborhood kids show up, and before I know it I'm giving dog wagon rides to everyone under four-feet tall, all around the neighborhood. This could be the start of a new venture; add a chicken petting zoo and a free trampoline and we're in business.

[I finally put together that "how to build a dirt-cheap dog cart" post; you can see it here]

I have spent the last four years of my life as a beast of burden, schlepping the kids and all their gear around, and I must admit a real pleasure in shifting that load to another creature. I put those two kids in the wagon and watch the dog trot merrily down the sidewalk bearing their weight and suddenly I can move like Gene Kelly. Even without the sprightly tap-dancing, the whole contraption creates something of a spectacle. Everywhere we go, cars stop moving in the road while cell phones point at us from open windows. Even a female mounted cop rubbernecked when she walked past us down Gratiot Ave:

I do prefer to keep it away from roads (we only take it along a road on our way to the market), and luckily there's a mile-long below-grade bike trail that runs through our neighborhood. Down there, I can even let them go without holding the leash. I am considering rigging up a simple system of reigns and a brake for these moments. Giddyup, the boy shouts. This is really fun, the girl shouts back at me, over and over, as I race to catch up.

There is a part of me that wishes I could just take the kids in their dog wagon to the grocery store or the pizza parlor without causing a scene, but I understand it's out of the ordinary. It's the sort of thing that's easier to get away with in Detroit than it would be elsewhere; I can't imagine doing it in Park Slope, and even though I wish we didn't always cause any scene there is something to be said for the number of smiles we create during every trip we take out the front door. I imagine this is sort of what it's like to be outrageously attractive, to have strangers smile all the time or say nice things or buy you drinks. I feel pretty lucky to have rigged up something that creates so many tiny moments of joy.

And yet, we've had a few nasty confrontations. One lady saw the dog's naturally white muzzle and assumed he was older than his four years, telling us that he was "way to old to be doing that much work." Another woman shook her head and finger at me, "You're putting your children's lives in the hands of that dog," to which I later wish I'd replied, When we take any big dog, or any street dog into our homes, don't we all? I looked at Wendell and knew I trusted him completely, but couldn't get too angry at this woman. She didn't know into what good paws I've entrusted my children.

* * * * *

We adopted Wendell more than three years ago. The guy who brought him to the shelter said he found him wandering alone near 7 Mile and John R, a particularly rough spot in a rough town for dogs. And yet he came to us so mild-mannered and eager to please. We have this strange conviction that he endured so much misery on the streets he still doesn't realize that our small gestures of ownership aren't worthy of his goodness, his near-perfect behavior.  There, I said it: he is almost a perfect dog. I haven't written much about that because there isn't much to say about perfection. Sure it would be more entertaining to regale you with Marley & Me-style hi-jinks, but other than the occasional smelly dog fart we don't have much to complain about. It is almost daily we remind ourselves of that decisive moment at the animal shelter, knowing that this particular creature was either destined for a needle the next day or the next decade in our home, and we tell ourselves that we definitely made the right decision: we definitely got the best one.

I read an article once in the Washington Post where some woman said of her lovely daughter adopted from China, "I think we got the best one." This is something you could never say about a genetic child (you should feel it, sure, but never say it), but I found it so endearing to read those words. It was so beautiful, I think, to see such an expression of falling so deeply in love with a child she had no part in creating.

In the same vein, I hope you will forgive me for stealing a bit of that sentiment and apply it to our mutt, for we had nothing at all to do with him. We never trained him. He came to us this way from the streets. He has never strayed more than a few feet from our own. True, he could be a better dock jumper, but he makes up for it with proven Frisbee catching and tree climbing skills. He has tolerated the abuses of infant fingers and toddler rides without so much as rolling one brown eye, and yet he becomes all teeth and throat the moment anyone jiggles our doorknob. He pulls our kids around the neighborhood with protective purpose, and pride.

He's a good one, guys. A good friend. Almost as good as yours, I bet.

If you have any comments about this post, I'd love to see you add them to the kind words already left at the first post, here