When I talk about my dogs with friends or family or even on this blog, I often call them freaks. I mean it with love. We have four dogs in our current pack, and over the years, we’ve lost several others. I’m grateful I met every one of them for a thousand different reasons. But, this Thanksgiving season, I’m going to explain why I call them freaks, and why I’m so thankful for their freakiness.
The dictionary defines the word freak like this, “regarded as strange because of their unusual appearance or behavior.” That pretty much sums up every dog I’ve ever known. Across the board they are unusual in both their looks and their actions.
Let’s start with their appearance. About twice a week, I cut up an apple, grab a book, and take a long bath in coconut oil. Adriana sits outside the tub, patient and attentive, because she knows I’m going to give her the tiniest slice of every bite. She’s so still when she waits that I can observe all of her adorable differences.
She looks different than me in every way, from her four legs to her tail that swishes back and forth every time I hand her an apple. Blond and white fur covers every inch of her skin. And her nose, that super sniffer, constantly moves with an almost imperceptible twitching. She chews the crunchy apple with her maw wide open, white canines flashing, and manages to make chewing look cute.
During these moments, when I get to focus on how different we are, I also like to think about what makes her unlike any other dog. I think about the fact that Adriana, that all mutts, are masterpieces. They are one-of-a-kind creatures impossible to recreate. They are breeds mixed with breeds until each mutt is singular, until each mutt is a freak.
Their weird behavior is another reason I call them freaks. In so many ways, dogs are just like us. Until that moment when they aren’t, until that moment when they do something so strange, we remember they really are another species. Sure, dogs have friends, but they greet them by sticking their noses up their bums. Dogs enjoy good food, but they also eat poop. And sometimes they roll in it. Like us, they fart, burp, and snore, but they do it in public without an ounce of concern for offending anybody. Sniffing their private parts is also fair game. And they have no problem with cleaning out ears or licking toes, anywhere at anytime.
Besides their atrocious manners, there’s something else freaky about their behavior, something not as obvious but much more remarkable. Dogs have the uncanny ability to read our minds, to sniff out our innermost secrets. They hear what we can’t say to anybody else. Sometimes, they even sense those tough feelings we aren’t able to admit to ourselves. In a Pack of Two, Caroline Knapp writes, “Dogs are fantasies that don’t disappoint.” She says they prance into our lives, sniff out our emotional needs, and then fix them. (If you love dog lit, I highly recommend Knapp’s book.)
Knapp’s words ring true time and time again in my life. For instance, I’ve never had children. For a boatload of reasons, a child wouldn’t work for our family. But, I’m still maternal. I still want to feel needed, nurturing, and devoted to another life. And my freaks have always satisfied all of these instincts.
Years ago, we entered our dog Joe Poop in a Nashville kissing contest. When they announced him as the winner, I reacted as thought he scored the game-winning touchdown for a national championship game. I whooped, karate-kicked the air, and fist-bumped Mason until my hand hurt. In that moment, I was 100% M-O-M. Joe watched me celebrate with a glimmer in his chocolate-brown eyes, as though he expected nothing less, as though he knew what needed to be done. And he did it. In that moment, I felt such an overwhelming sense of pride I wondered if it was normal to love another creature as much as I loved Joe.
So, during this Thanksgiving week, I want to thank all the weird-looking, strange-acting dogs I’ve ever known for all of their freakiness.