In the evenings, when I get home, it is Syrus, Josh's brother's dog, who greets me most enthusiastically. He is waiting for me when I open the door, while Remix looks up groggrily from where she is curled up on the couch. I was flattered by this doggy love, and a little scandalized that an animal who is not my own loved me so, as if canine affection was subject to the idea of fidelity. But I shouldn't have worried. Really, Syrus is happy because I can perform a service for him: open the back door. With that, he shoots out and over to the fence to see what the other neighborhood dogs are up to. Remix follows, with a mighty leap off the porch.
The fence is the thing that separates us from Gail and her foster home for wayward dogs. It used to be that her dogs were only out when she was home. Either this policy has changed or she's not working much anymore. In any case, Syrus charges the fence with a snarl, which is answered by the barking of half a dozen dogs on the other side. And then they start running. Back and forth in parallel, up and down the length of the fence. Syrus will do this forever. Remix gets tired of mindless running and wants to fight, at which point she runs behind Syrus and tries to bite his back leg to goad him into a game of Wrestle. That's her signature move, the back leg bite.
It's funny to me to see the way a dog's original job manifests itself in the life of a pet. These traits seem to pop up in play, as each dog seems to instinctively know certain games. Rottweilers were bred to be shepherds, so Syrus loves to play the game of Run. He also is very good at Wrestle, I guess from generations of keeping unruly sheep in line. Pitbulls were bred to fight other pitbulls while people bet on them. As a result, Remix has a great short game and that's about it. She cannot run forever, though she can run very fast for a bit. Her hearing, sight, and smell are not spectacular, nor is she especially smart. She is moderately stealthy and very nimble. Her grab-bite is excellent.
So whichever of Gail's dogs have running in their blood play Run with Syrus, while the ones whose ancestors had other jobs hang out at the corner and play Bark. Of course, Gail is not the only one with dogs. The people behind her have two, a pair of large shepherd types with the most magnificent flowing white hair. I call these dogs the Clydesdales, after the fancy horses. I can't imagine what a pain they must be. One of my requirements for a dog was that it had short hair. Syrus is only shaggy, and yet whole spare coats of his fur accumulate underneath the futon. We all have our ideals of dog ownership, and mine does not involve going to the groomer or needing to sweep more than once a week.
And behind our house lives a shaggy terrier thing named Hope. She has a wimpy and shrill bark that would scare only the meekest of burglars. I can always pick her barks out of the crowd, as well as Remix's, who has a powerful and throaty voice. The rest of them sort of meld together in a general din.
All of these yards meet in one corner, where the dogs will congregate in order to sniff, bark, and wag at each other. It's tempting to think that they are relaying special dog secrets, but they're probably just saying "Hey" over and over. It is a right lot of noise. Bark bark bark, run run, run, bark bark bark.
Now, Syrus is not a young dog. He is eight years old, which for a ninety-pound rottweiler, is a respectable age. You can tell his age when he gets up from lying down, slowly as if his butt were still asleep. Once, he must have gotten up too quickly, because his back legs just collapsed on him. He sat pathetically on the floor, wagging his nub of a tail. He eats senior dog food, because that is a thing that exists.
But we have all noticed that since moving next door to the foster home, Syrus has regained his youth. Previously, he lived in more urban areas, and he watched a lot of TV. He had a canine roommate, but that dog was part coyote or something; his favorite game was Skulk. Playing with other dogs who know his doggy games has done him a lot of good. He runs the fence a couple times a day with the neighbor dogs, and then he comes inside where Remix pesters him until he finally agrees to kick her butt for her. All that adds up to a strong and energized Syrus. He is a beast. It's especially terrifying when he comes in from a brisk run at the fence. He's also a drooler (not sure what the evolutionary advantage is to that), and after that much exercise, he is foaming, with long trails of slobber running down his front. He looks almost rabid. Except that he looks so happy, gulping at the bowl of water and asking to be let out again.