A dog with an ear for cell phone signals

The other day, my friend Teri (not her real name) was visiting Boomer and me. Boomer likes Teri. He met her when I was in the hospital, trying not to die of AIDS-related complications. Shortly thereafter, I myself met Teri when she came to my hospital room to meet the owner of the dog she agreed to take care of as part of her volunteer duties with PAWS.

PAWS stands for Pets Are Wonderful Support. The organization was started during the AIDS Panic in the 1980s as a way to assist pets living with people with AIDS.

Two decades ago, I attended the Louise Hay Hayrides in West Hollywood, where a gymnasium filled with mostly gay men petrified of dying of AIDS tried to heal themselves with love. A woman named Nadia Sutton spoke often of her dream to help the pets caught in the crossfire of the epidemic. Her dream became PAWS. In the 21st century, PAWS was there for me when I needed them most, dispatching Teri to help me out when a doctor’s visit turned into “9 Daze in Hell” in a hospital.

It’s a couple of years after that hospitalization and Aunt Teri is visiting us. She’s family now, not just a volunteer. During the visit, she gets a call on her cell, takes it, has a brief chat, then says goodbye and hangs up, ready to resume our visit. But I’m too busy busting a gut, mostly on the inside.

Boomer, who had been sleeping, was now alert and at Teri’s side, ready to bounce. My dog knows a bugle reverie call when he hears it.

“Okay, see you later … bye.”

It was then I realized: it didn’t matter who in the room was hanging up the phone, especially if they were sitting in my favorite chair. A simple human ritual had burrowed itself into my dog’s brain as cue for what was coming next.

“I gotta go, time to walk the dog … okay … talk to you later … bye.” Hang up the phone. Get up outta the chair and go walk the dog.

“Okay, I’ll be there … see you soon.” Hang up the phone. Get up outta the chair and get ready to go somewhere.

“Great chatting with you, too … okay, you, too … bye.” Hang up the phone. Take a breath, decide what to do next, like get up and feed the dog.

“Okay, mom, love you, too … bye.” Hang up the phone and find that my dog has abandoned whatever he was doing and is sitting beside me like an anxious soldier at attention. What’s next, Sir? What’s next, Sir? Sir, what’s next, cause it must be about me and a walk or food or playing with a toy and I’m gonna explode!

Or maybe it’s like gangsters in the hood. What’s up, who dat? what now? It’s going down like what …

Whatever cliché analogy I use, my dog’s habit has become quite annoying, especially for a human who just wants to get back to his soap opera on Tivo. I’ve even tried altering my language and tone at the end of phone calls, which must sound pretty strange on the other end of the line. Still it doesn’t seem to lessen Boomer’s call to action. He’s on to me. He’s had ten years of listening to me hang up the phone.

In fact, the day Teri was visiting us, sitting in my chair, talking on her cell, Boomer and I had been together ten years and one month, all of it spent with mobile phones and my favorite chair. It’s no wonder Daddy’s Special Little Buddy knows what’s up. He’s a dog of the cell phone generation. Phat Dawg knows exactly how we humans roll. And Teri’s part of the pack now. She can sit in my chair, come over when she wants. She even knows the secret bugle reverie call. She’s in.

People can be wonderful support, too.

Note 2 Self: Soon on When In Doubt, Pet the Dog: Boomer Loves the Bearcat, featuring Boo’s literary debut.