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Are you working like a dog? When I was a little kid, I thought that sounded like a pretty good deal to me. The dogs I knew of then spent their time snuffling in the grass or sitting atop a doghouse chasing the Red Baron. Honestly, the part in “A Hard Day’s Night” where the Beatles complained about working like a dog made less sense to my eight-year-old mind than the lyrics to “I Am the Walrus” or “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.

Look, here’s a photo of my family’s dog, Missy. We adopted her from a shelter shortly after my daughter was born — it was my wife’s idea, one that I reluctantly went along with, despite my misgivings about adding yet another drooly, demanding creature to our household. Missy just turned 12 years old this week, which is pretty old for a German shepherd, so what you see here is pretty much how she spends ninety percent of her time now. (The rest: three percent eating, six percent pooping, one percent defending our home from either imaginary intruders, or me before I get close enough for her to recognize.). If we had a quick brown fox, it would be exhausted by the constant jumping.

Still, in her youth, Missy was naturally much more vigorous. Part of it was the physical need to burn off her energy. An hour or so of chasing balls or sticks during the day was never enough, and so — “surprisingly” — I somehow ended up being the one who took her out every night for her walk, a mile or more, rain, snow, or heat. Sure, I groused about it, but at the same time it’s hard to keep from bonding with something so unabashedly devoted when you spend that much time with her.

In any case, it wasn’t just Missy’s body that craved activity; it was her tiny little dog mind as well. A shepherd is pretty intelligent, for a dog, which I know is like saying, “He’s pretty sexy, for a tax attorney,” but everything is relative.  Even with her constant, interminable evening walks, Missy would grow restless if she didn’t have a job to do.  Fortunately for her, and for us, a German shepherd’s favorite job is watching over other creatures, and we had thoughtfully provided her with two toddlers to safeguard.  The family would head out to a nearby park for a ramble, and Missy would attentively circle the children (and the parents), trying to herd us together and physically putting herself between the little ones and any strangers who jogged or strolled past. 

One of our most joyous memories is of a snow day when we all headed out to a grassy field and I plopped the kids (two and four years old at the time) into a blue plastic toboggan, which I then tied to Missy in the hope that she might drag them a few feet.  Instead, she took off like a shot, racing like she was in the Iditarod, the kids giggling and bouncing behind her and me unable to keep up.  And then, a hundred and fifty yards later, and safely short of the nearest road, she eased to a stop, and looked back at me as if to say, “‘S okay. I’ve got them.”  Everyone slept really well that night.

So, maybe dogs aren’t that bright, but they aren’t stupid.  They know that there are things they are good at — guarding or chasing or racing or tracking — and that if they don’t do those things, if they don’t satisfy those primal talents, then they become anxious and gloomy.  And they may overdo it sometimes: Missy would chase balls thrown by the kids until she started to limp, but at night her peaceful slumber would be due just as much to heartfelt satisfaction as to physical exhaustion — and she would usually take it down a notch the next day. 

It’s a little hard for us now to watch Missy approaching the Big Hard Day’s Night — her body and mind gradually giving out — and we try to show her all the love and appreciation we can.  If she wants to sleep all day and bark at me when I come home at night, then bless her; she’s done her job so well, for so long, that she certainly deserves to take it easy now.  I only hope I can be as deserving when my song nears its end.  Who wouldn’t want to work like a dog?