Today I met a dog named Comet. He did not like me.
And when I say he didn’t like me, what I mean is that he played one helluva game of dog-peek-a-boo with me. He never got closer than three feet away from me but also never took his eyes off of me. The house he lives in has a circular floor plan that goes kitchen → living room → dining room and so he’d dodge around from the living room to the dining room and stare. He’d sort of wag his tail. He’d even sometimes bark. But he wouldn’t let me near enough even to pat his head. Oh no no no. And if I went to the living room, he’d swoop into the dining room/kitchen arc of the house….and if I went to the dining room, it was kitchen/living room.
What the heck, Comet? Why can’t we be friends?
Comet is a four-year-old Puggle. In case you’re not familiar with this brand of “designer dog,” that means he’s half beagle, half pug. He looks like a miniature boxer, weighing in around twenty-five pounds. He lives in a house with a mom and a dad and two boys who are around the ages of six and nine. He let my three nephews pet him and pick him up. Even when they chased him and teased him. I was just trying to be nice. Comet wanted no part of it.
Except, well… There is that fact that he never took his eyes off of me. I was busy painting some primer on kitchen cabinets, helping my sister-in-law Jen with one of her jobs for her School Bell Painting business (click the link! check out her new website!), and sometimes I even forgot about this little furry friend who wouldn’t be my friend until I’d look up and — wham — two deep brown eyes bulging pug-like out of that little square-jawed face. Comet knew my location at all times.
His owner kept apologizing. He’s a weirdo. He’s got some anxiety. He sometimes acts this way and then is your best friend by the end of the day. But I wasn’t convinced that would be the case with Comet and me. He was willfully teased and chased by the kids — he let them all get right up in his business. But his distance from me was intentional.
He didn’t like the look of me.
But he did want my attention. As soon as he’d know that I’d caught his eye, he’d start to dip, dodge, and weave. He’d start up the peek-a-boo game, running from one room in the house to the other, waiting for me to see him so he could run to the other. It almost seemed by the time we were getting ready to leave that he regretted his unwillingness just to be a normal dog — so he doubled down and continued to refuse to do much else besides inch ever closer to me.
In all of my years around dogs, I’ve never seen one act like this.
I’ve never had a dog not love me.
I went through the full range of emotions from curious to thinking it was funny to finding it sad to being a little hurt to laughing again before resorting to whispering to my nephews, “Can you please tell Comet that I’m nice?” Brayden giggled but Christian did it, his arm wrapped lovingly around Comet’s neck. “My aunt is nice,” he said into the dog’s ear. And then he chased him around with a toy that had a snapping alligator on the end of a stick.
Comet still refused to come near me, but Christian, oh, he let Christian pick him up.
As I watched this story unfold, I thought of my friends Elliott and Liam's dog Yoshi. Yoshi is a husky mix, about two-years-old, rescued from the streets of Puerto Rico. I sometimes think of this bred-for-winter dog living on that tropical island. I bet Yoshi is super happy he ended up in Massachusetts. He’s definitely happy he ended up with Elliott. Those two were insta-bros, besties, compadres right out of the gate. But it was not like that with Liam. Yoshi would run away from Liam, sometimes growl at him. For the first few months Yoshi lived in their home, it was hard to navigate the dissonance between Yoshi’s faith in one of his owners and his complete distrust of the other. It didn’t help that I’d come over and Yoshi immediately bonded with me, too. In fact, the only person he really didn’t like was Liam. For months, we would ask the question out loud: Yoshi, who does Liam remind you of? He’s not that person. He’s safe. It’s OK. Yoshi had been a street dog and so it seemed logical that he’d encountered some people, places, and things that had sharpened his instincts and taught him to be wary. And over time (and with lots of work), Yoshi has eased up on his distrust of Liam and the two are now buddies. “He still prefers Elliott,” Liam would freely admit in his driest voice. But progress is progress.
So while Comet played this game with me, I kept thinking to myself, “Who do I remind you of, pup?” Even after nearly five hours in each other’s presence, he never got close enough for me to ask him myself.
I consider myself to be an approachable person, so it did bruise my ego to have this dog wanna dance this tango with me. But it also got me thinking about compassion and relationships and instinctual gut-reactions to those around us. It got me thinking about how I hear certain names or certain “trigger words” about a person and how I immediately categorize them as X Y Z and how maybe that is something I should work on now that I’m living in a new place. That I shouldn’t just dismiss someone because, say, I find out they play bass in a cover band. That’s just a random example I pulled out of thin air. Ha.
It’s OK that Comet didn’t want to snuggle up to me. In about thirty years, I’ll get over it, no problem. But in the meantime, I’m going to let it teach me something about how to pay attention to boundaries and respect that not everyone will want to be your friend — some may just need more time before they can warm up to the idea.
But I’d also be totally lying if I didn’t say that as soon as we got back to my brother’s house, I didn’t immediately feel all of the joy of the world as his family’s three dogs converged on me. Cool, I haven’t lost my touch.
Comet, someday maybe we’ll get a do-over. If so, great. If not, great. But I hope you realize, lil fella, that I just wanted to be friends. No pressure. Maybe someday we’ll get to close that three foot gap to mere inches. I promise never to chase you with an alligator on the end of a stick, no matter what.
From the Today’s Special 2019.
Virtual Tip Jar: Venmo @sarahwolfstar