The wind had an argument with the back door, and the wind won.
It rattled the door until it opened a crack, then threw it open and closed, open and closed. This alarmed Birch the dog. He responded bravely: There was an invisible intruder outside, and it needed to be barked back into the darkness.
Funny thing is, it worked. The wind abated, but not before it had sheared the door’s pneumatic closer from the frame, ripped out the screws that held the door fast, loosened a light fixture over the door and splintered the wood from the frame.
The back door couldn’t be used. But that was the dog’s door. That was how he got outside to do the things that need to be done. (Our rules, not his decision.) No problem, I thought, the house has another door, a side door once used by tradesmen and servants.
The first time I opened it to shoo him outside, he seemed confused: How had this portal opened up? What else have you been hiding? I knew about the front door, and the garage door, but this, what sorcery is this?
When he’d finished his business, he went … right to the back door he always used.
I went to the side door, called him. He didn’t budge. I got the box of treats and shook it, a sound that can summon him from afar. Nothing. I poured some kibble in the dish — he watched me do it through the back door — then rattled the dish at the side door. He didn’t bat an eye.
I ended up having to pick him up and carry him inside.
It was time for a little chat:
“Look, Birch. I don’t think you’re off-the-charts smart. And that’s OK.”
Birch: Expectant look. Wondering if there will be treats.
“I don’t treat you like a furry child, and I hope you appreciate that. I would never roughhouse with a toddler like we do. When my daughter was very young and was misbehaving, I did not pick up a spray bottle and give her a blast of mist in the face.”
Birch: You’re saying words, but none of them are “treat.” But I’ll pay attention in case there might be treats.
“You’re not our first dog, you know. Now, we love you as much as the others. All of our dogs have been good boys and the best dogs ever. You’re the most affectionate and loyal. Scout was a dog’s dog, a hunter, a rover, a beautiful creature. Jasper, who lived to be 19, was uncannily smart. When he was a pup he realized that if he was inside, looking at me in the front yard, and I went around the side of the house, I would appear at the back door. That’s quite a deduction for a pup. Spatial awareness, extrapolation.”
Birch: Do you want me to high-five or lie down? Either’s fine, because treats, right?
“What’s bothersome about your door problem is the way it presents a metaphor for human behavior.”
“When I saw you unable to comprehend the second door, it made me think of all the times we humans are presented with another option, another way into a problem, another way of getting in and out of our own lives. But we would rather wait for the old door to be fixed instead of taking advantage of a new route.”
Birch: OK, now I’m going to lick myself with loud slurping noises, which is a rough equivalent of what you’re doing here.
“On the other hand, how many times do we mistake a new door for an improvement in our lives, when what we really need to do is fix the old door?”
“That’s why we love dogs. You mirror our own lives as we see them, but are unaware of what we project upon you. So, perhaps I’d better smear some wet dog food on the side door frame, eh? That’ll work.”
Eventually, it did. Birch learned that the side door was as good as the back one.
Dogs learn to adapt, after all.
I fixed the back door within a few days. The only problem is I’m still smearing wet dog food on the frame. He just won’t come in otherwise.