Somewhere in what’s now Germany 14,223 years ago (give or take 58 years) there lived a useless puppy, and it was adorable.
We know it was useless thanks to scientists who took a close look at the remains of the puppy, which had been buried with two people. Last month they published a paper saying its teeth had signs of two or three bouts of serious disease that must have stopped the animal from earning its keep until just a few weeks before it died at about 6 months old.
We know it was adorable because (a) c’mon, it was a puppy and (b) someone put a lot of work into keeping it alive, even though — as only a dispassionate scientist could put it — “the dog cannot have held any utilitarian use to humans.”
I know how those humans felt. Stone Age Europeans, Digital Age suburbanites — dogs know how to wrap all of us around their paws.
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As my youngest son says, it doesn’t take much tweaking to turn the “Dukes of Hazzard” theme into a song about our dog, Jack: “Just a good ol’ boy, never meanin’ no harm, beats all you ever saw, been in trouble with the law since the day he was born.”
Literally. We adopted Jack after authorities scooped him up from a house with more dogs than the law allows, and he’s been breaking rules ever since.
Just like the prehistoric puppy, he’s way more trouble than he’s worth. And he, too, knows his people wouldn’t dream of turning him out.
All that trouble shows no sign of letting up, I thought while poking at a lunchtime salad and reading about the scientists’ paper. The whole reason I was eating that bowl of greens is because, while nobody was looking, Jack had scarfed down the leftover sausages my wife and I intended to pack for our lunches.
We shouted at him when we figured out that his happily wagging tail had something to do with the missing meat, but we couldn’t stay mad for more than a few seconds.
He even managed to get away with what I assume was literal murder the day he trotted in from the backyard carrying half a squirrel and no answer — none that we wanted to think too long about, at least — to where the critter’s other half might be.
And it was a case worse than squirrelicide, by my family’s reckoning, that made my son call me at work last week. Choking back emotion, he said Jack had snatched the Winnie-the-Pooh he’s had since he was baby off a dresser, tore the bear’s back open and completely disemboweled it.
Long before Grandma showed up to stitch Winnie back together, Jack had managed to wag his way back from bad dog to good boy.
To misquote Waylon Jennings again, “he’s makin’ his way, the only way he knows how, and that’s just a little bit more than the law will allow.”
Trouble is, the law’s all bark and no bite for Jack, because he knows nobody can stay mad at him once he hangs his head and sets his tail to slowly sweep the ground.
Thankfully, we haven’t had to nurse our dog back from any near-fatal diseases for archaeologists of the future to write about. But maybe they’ll dig up his bones one day, find signs that he managed to get a surprising amount of human food — the stolen sausages, the pan-seared flank steak with mustard-chive butter we served him for his birthday, and plenty more — and note that he was still lovingly cared for.
And those scientists will understand that this dog, like countless pups back to the Stone Age, was just a good ol' boy.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.