If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog

Tuesday 15 August 2017 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Best Friend’s Day 

It’s going on eight months since my dog Lurch came to live with me. I’ve been getting to know him, getting to know all about him. This works both ways. He had to get to know me as well. Unfortunately, being a dog, he is unable to read this Anchor column. That is, after all, how you got to know me so well, dear readers.

When I picked Lurch from among the other dogs at the adoption kennel, they told me a bit about him. He’s a lurcher — that is, a greyhound mix. What mix, nobody knew exactly. He was perhaps four or five years old. Maybe two. Nobody knew for sure. He had been brought to Massachusetts with other lurchers by volunteers in the American Lurcher Project.  

Unlike greyhounds, many of these Midwest lurchers live their entire lives outside. At first, Lurch found indoor living discombobulating. Also unlike greyhounds, most lurchers are familiar with other dog breeds. Depending on their age and the type of breed with which they are crossed, lurchers can sometimes run faster than purebred greyhounds, if you can imagine. Lurchers are hunters and therefore likely to chase little fury animals. Lurch needs to be in a fenced enclosure. 

During the months he spent at the adoption kennel, the staff observed that Lurch had previously had little opportunity to socialize with people, but seemed to respond well to human attention and affection. He would happily settle into a “forever home,” they predicted. He did.

Here’s what I’ve since learned about Lurch.

True, he does enjoy being outdoors, but for no longer than 15 minutes — and only when it’s sunny. As soon as Lurch flies happily out the door, he will stop short and return to me. He wants me to sit on the stoop and scratch his chin. First things first.

Lurch likes to lie upside down in the grass. This is called “roaching.” Before he finds a nice spot for roaching, however, he’ll run around the yard like a maniac. He does indeed run faster than a greyhound, but he runs in figure-eights. This would not win races. If I seem disinterested in his game, he will stop and bow at my feet. I, of course, am expected to acknowledge the bow by cheering him on in his race to nowhere in particular. 

Lurch is never happier outdoors than when he’s digging. This is not a greyhound trait. It’s the result of his mixed genes, I suspect. I’m now guessing he’s a greyhound crossed with a beagle. Beagles are famous for digging. Greyhounds are sight hounds but beagles are scent hounds. On his father’s side, Lurch spies anything that moves but on his mother’s side, he loves the smell of fresh earth. I tried to discourage this behavior, but then I thought: Why? What real harm is it doing? He was born to dig. Knock yourself out, kid. Your mother would be proud of you.

If it’s raining, forget going out in the yard. He may be an outdoor dog, but Lurch has enough common sense to stay indoors when it rains. Romping in a snowdrift is totally out of the question. 

Initially, Lurch suffered some separation anxiety. If I left the house, he would pace and roo until I returned. Rooing is a kind of moaning howl greyhounds make in order to reconnect with the pack. He must have inherited that from his father. Fortunately, Lurch got over it. He now seems to realize that I’ll soon return and goes right back to sleep. Nevertheless, he’s always at the door to greet my return energetically. 

When I’m at the rectory, Lurch flops down in whatever room I happen to be in, curled up on a comfy cushion. Sometimes Lurch will sneak off, but I see him. He’s curious to know what’s in the out-of-bounds rooms of the rectory.

Lurch eats only when he’s hungry but he sleeps anytime. The one food he’ll never refuse under any condition is a pizza crust. Although he has learned to appreciate some high-end doggie treats, he remains unimpressed with stuffed toys. Just toss him an empty plastic bottle and he’s happy. 

Lurch doesn’t like sudden noises, not even a sneeze. A passing motorcycle will set him on high alert. In a rainstorm, he tries to hide someplace the thunder won’t get him (as in Father Ray Cambra’s old room). When he hears firecrackers going off, he makes a beeline for my bedroom closet. 

Lurch has limited English language skills. He knows his name. He knows “cookie-cookie?” The word needs to be repeated rapidly in succession. He knows “wannagout-wannagout?” spoken as a single word and with exaggerated enthusiasm. Lurch may have a limited vocabulary, but he is a master of body language. He knows how to read me at least.

Lurch is now part of my life, dear readers. We’ve gotten to know each other. To paraphrase President Harry S. Truman, “If you want a friend, get a dog.”

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.


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