There is something kind of primal about owning a dog. Yes, I could get all philosophical, but I mean this in a very specific way. There are bones in my living room. They are cow, not mammoth, and they have been specially treated and processed for consumption by canine, but nonetheless, they are bones. Cross sections of bovine femur have been methodically reduced to shards by my domesticated ancestor of the majestic wolf. Actually, my Siberian husky, Nikita, does closely resemble a wolf. Mostly white with gray markings and one blue eye, she is very striking. Until you see her run across the hardwood in hot pursuit of one morsel of chow. Cartoonishly, all four paws lose traction and she runs in place until she tumbles on her furry tail and slides across the floor. The wolf illusion is short lived. She tries to regain her dignity by unleashing a piercing howl that echoes through the house, but she can tell by our uncontrolled laughter that we are not fooled.
Somewhere in Alabama was a girl who saw it, though. I was in Alabama legitimately—passing through on the way to Florida with my husband as we had done many times before. Every such trip we would stop about half way through to get gas and let the husky stretch her legs. Our favorite destination for these respites was a dandy place where you could buy gas, snacks, trucker drugs, and feed a few alligators at Tom Mann’s Fish World. Easily mistaken for a glorified gas station with a tackle shop off to the side, that is until you wandered around back. There waited the discovery of a swampy lagoon which was bordered around the leading edge by a wooden deck and machines that dispensed handfuls of kibble for a quarter. Looking out amongst the lily pads you could see the bumpy, leathery heads of the gators with their slitted pupils blinking lazily. No fence around this habitat. Oh, no.
You could walk right up and slap one of those cold-blooded suckers on its snout if your extra chromosome dictated such an action. What kept the alligators from wandering out into the traffic of Hwy 139 not twenty yards away? Constant handfuls of kibble? I tried not to think about it. Much like I tried to ignore the toddlers who wobbled around the banks of the lagoon, lest I unwittingly became a witness to something tragic. Now, don’t get me wrong, these were not huge “sewers of New York” sized reptiles. Most were about six feet long. But they weren’t babies. They could hurt you or your dog if either wandered too close. So, we always made sure that Nikita was kept on a short leash. All danger aside, you couldn’t ask for a more fascinating place to stop for gas and a stretch.
This trip our walk along the alligator infested waters was briefly interrupted by a young, local girl. She lived in one of the few houses that were within walking distance of Mr. Mann’s. Homes that once were far off the beaten track until four lanes of asphalt were laid down and they became exhibits in a highway sideshow. She walked toward us, eyes wide and fixed on Nikita. As she neared, she reached out her hand toward the husky’s nose in the universal “take a sniff, I’m okay” kind of way. She looked up at me and asked in her sincere, mid-Alabama drawl, “Is dis one of dem woof dawgs?”
Nikita sniffed at a blade of grass then sneezed violently. Woof dog, indeed.
“No,” I told her. ”This is a Siberian husky which, contrary to popular belief, is no more closely related to wolves than your average poodle or even a mutt.”
“Oh,” she said with obvious disappointment. ”Well, I’m gonna get me one of dem woof dawgs.”
My husband and I both gave her “of course you are, sweetheart” looks and made our way back to the car. Once inside, we both laughed in the way that you know you shouldn’t, but it’s just too damn funny not to.
That poor, ignorant little girl will never know how much enjoyment we’ve had over the years calling the husky “woof dawg” whenever she would do something decidedly un-wolf-like. However, what could be more lupine than scraping your canines enthusiastically across solid bone? When our husky is in the corner doing just that, I like to imagine that she is a wolf. Then, my brain easily leaps to a scene thousands of years ago, where some primitive version of me watches her wolf gnaw on the leftovers of that evening’s kill. And for a moment, I embrace not feeling so evolved.