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Some mysteries are better left for kids and dogs

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Some mysteries are better left for kids and dogs

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1993, The Syracuse Newspapers

With the children long since grown and out of the house and with the grandchildren far away, our dog Fala has become our little boy. He acts like a typical kid, pouting when he can't get his own way, showing off when he wants attention and putting on a bark-and-moan routine when he is jealous.

He also knows all about Christmas.

To a little kid like Fala, Christmas is a time for toys. Scotch terriers wouldn't know what to do with tricycles and dolls, but they have a pretty good notion about the importance of see-through plastic bags that squeak when you bite into them.

That was the lesson we learned last year, when we had hidden a squeaky dog toy, still in its display bag, in the back of one of our closets. It was in a box on the floor of the closet.

It's not possible, in human terms, for Fala to have known that we had hidden his Christmas present in a box, in a bag, in a closet. But in dog terms, we must have put the equivalent of a sign up over his feeding dish saying, in terrier language, "Squeaky toy is located down the hall and in the closet, in a box near the corner. Go for it!" So he did. And one day, long before Christmas, we found him strutting around with a new squeaky-fuzzy toy in his mouth. The bag was still in his mouth, too. In fact, the toy was still in the bag.

So what do you do when one of your kids finds his Christmas toy early and unwraps it? You read him the riot act, right? And then you let him keep the toy.

People who say that dogs really can't understand people-talk are wrong. They know exactly what you are saying. Fala sat there and listened while he got the full treatment.

Of course, like all little kids, what we said and what Fala heard were two different things. We told him he mustn't open up his toys before Christmas ever again. We told him about the importance of surprises and the virtue of patience. What he heard, however, was something like this: "Darn it! Blah-blah. Where'd you ... blah-blah. Don't ever ... blah-blah."

So this year we got smart. My wife, Nancy, bought him another squeaky toy and hid it on a high shelf in that same closet. It was in the same kind of see-through bag, and it still made that silly noise right through the bag. But this time the little squeak-hunter would never find it.

A week later, I was about to leave for work when a little black form appeared under my feet. It was Fala, telling me he wanted to go out. Usually, he looks up at me and says something in dog-talk, but this time his head was down, pointing away, and he seemed to be carrying something in his mouth.

I thought no more about it and went on my way. Later, when I came home and called him to come in, he failed to appear. I knew he was out there, because I had heard him barking at a squirrel while I was walking into the house. But as soon as he realized I was home, he put on a disappearing act.

This was so unlike Fala that I got worried. Was he ill? Was he injured? Was he stuck under the fence?

He finally came in, his head still down. Why didn't he want to look at me? A squeak provided the answer. We found Fala later, off in another room, happily chewing on a new toy—his Christmas toy, the one in the closet, on a high shelf. He had been playing with it all day, hiding it from us and feeling guilty when he knew that at last we were going to find out.

Parents among you will know right away what we did next. We gave up. No scolding, no fretting and no more guilt for the little guy.

We know what we have to do next year. We'll wait until Christmas Eve, while he's asleep, to bring his present out of the car. But we'll never know how this dog with three-inch legs ever got that toy. Did the box get knocked down during cleaning? Did he jump five feet up to the shelf? A kid would know. But to grownups, it will always be a mystery.

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