One evening last week, a toddler with her, I assume, African faculty or student parents was enjoying the University of Idaho’s administration lawn and an orange snow cone. I was walking my dog, Mimi, as I often do in the evenings.
The young girl immediately made eye contact with my pooch on a leash and started making a hands-up, toddler wobble beeline toward her with the biggest grin and giggle a sugared-up child can make. I reeled in the dog and squatting down, took hold of her harness.
Mimi loves every human being she has met so far. A purebred rescue for us, we knew she grew up around children and loves to romp with them. Sometimes the romping is rougher than people expect, and it can scare the bejesus out of a toddler, hence the holding the harness.
As the girl made her way toward Mimi, the dog did her best tongue out, “doggie down” yoga pose and began a new series of noises I’ve never heard her make before.
She’s not a barker at all but she can whimper with the best of them and now, as the little girl made her approach, Mimi was offering the most inviting body language and a little childlike chirp, squeak, bark-whimper sound. Weird?
The impeccable little girl, resplendent in her red velvet dress with two gold earrings, took great delight in the sound and seeing this little black and white dog being so happy to see her and wanting to play. The child’s father in the clean-cut family was right with the little girl but allowed her to advance. Mom, on the other hand, took a detour away from this commotion.
No offense taken from mom. As is often the case, and as my intern Sherwin Francies wrote in this space last year, people from foreign lands do not see dogs the same way Americans do. That is in part because the disease issues and hazards that starving feral dogs represent in other countries. That was another reason for me to restrain my rambunctious pooch and talk to the toddler.
I assured the girl over and over Mimi would not hurt her, and father was very cordial but watching. Meanwhile, the child’s delightful giggle and the dog’s squeaky bark made for quite the ongoing conversation.
Eventually, the child stopped about 3 feet from the dog and enjoyed the show. She wanted to pet Mimi, but the dog’s frenzy was a little scary. Then the most interesting thing happened — she held out the soggy snow cone. Of course, my chow hound lunged for it, but I held her back. This started a whole new round of giggles.
Eventually, dad ushered his gorgeous little daughter away toward mom and contact was broken off. I did not think to get the family’s name, but I should have.
Without trying to read too much into this, it made me wonder if in fact the effort to offer food to a canine is instinctual as is the canine’s instinct to offer playfulness and show desire for the food? Perhaps it was a child who first lured a wild canid toward the fire eons ago with a scrap of bone or sinew? Perhaps it was not the benevolent band of hunters surrounding a fire after a hunt and a meal that is the origin of canine domestication?
Hunters would likely be more wary of piercing yellow eyes in the darkness. A child might just read the body language and approach with an abundance of innocence toward a hungry animal.
Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email firstname.lastname@example.org.