If you haven’t read “A Dog’s Purpose” by W. Bruce Cameron, or seen the movie based on the book, or read the sequel books, or seen the sequel movies…well, you should do all of those things. Bailey the dog has touched the hearts of millions of readers and moviegoers since he first debuted seven years ago. Bailey has also inspired many dog owners, me included, to reflect on our own pet’s purpose.
When our first dog, Lizzy the Springer Spaniel, died 8 years ago, I must have been ahead of my time because I wrote of her purpose in a piece called, “The Queen of Fetch.” Lizzy’s purpose was teaching us, our kids, our kids’ friends, our neighbors, the local dog catcher, the mailman, and anyone else who she deemed worthy, the art of fetch. And for her, it was an art form. That said, she also had some less adorable traits, like squeaking loudly whenever the refrigerator opened or anyone sat down to eat a meal or anytime she smelled food. She squeaked a lot.
Fast forward 8 years. We adopted Koda, a 5 ½ year old rescue springer spaniel during the height of the pandemic, driving 13 hours each way to Minnesota to bring her home. We’ve had him now for almost 2 years and in that time, we’ve discovered his purpose. Of course, we assumed being a springer spaniel like Lizzy, he would crave fetching, perhaps be the King of Fetch. Instead, he stands still and looks at us quizzically when we throw a ball, as if to say, “Why did you do that?” “Who’s going to get that silly thing?”
Koda has endearing traits, too. He is affectionate, hugging us when we come home. He stands in the window, sometimes for hours, watching for our car to come home. He sits patiently by the door when he needs to go out and then again when he wants back in – never barking for attention or pawing the door. He just sits and looks for us. He knows better than to chase squirrels or bunnies, and they know not to worry about him chasing them.
But Koda has exceeded, by far, Lizzy’s not-so-endearing trait. Food obsession. Koda is the King of Consumption, or, as our son rightly claims, the only dog who gains weight on walks. In that skillset, Koda reigns supreme. He is voracious. He counter-surfs, pantry-cruises, refrigerator sniffs, and jumps out of a deep sleep if he hears the slightest rustle of food packaging. When we say “supper time,” he knocks us over on the way to his bowl. He walks by other dogs he used to growl and charge at if we give him a treat. He’ll eat anything accidentally dropped by anyone along his walking path, not all of which is actually edible. A week after we brought him home, he jumped up to the counter and grabbed 3 ears of corn we carelessly left too close to the edge (we were told by the foster family that he doesn’t surf counters) and spent the whole night in the parking lot of the veterinary ER (there was a pandemic at the time and we weren’t allowed in with him) waiting for the doctors to evacuate the cobs from his stomach lest they perforate his intestine. When our young grandkids have food in their hands, they are at risk for a nip from Koda as he tries to share whatever they are holding. He ate an inedible squeaky toy. The veterinary ER was looming again before he eventually passed most of the toy from below or vomited it from above over the next week. He knows where every dog treat box in the neighborhood is and pulls toward those on his walks – and pulls toward every Free Little Library box in the neighborhood thinking there are treats in those, too. A UPS driver once gave him a treat on a walk – he now pulls toward every UPS truck he sees expecting the same. If dogs are colorblind, Koda’s food gene is more dominant than his colorblind gene – he can distinguish between UPS brown, Amazon Prime black, and FedEx white, only pulling to UPS. brown.
Remarkably, Koda isn’t overweight – he clearly must burn a lot of energy chasing down food.
We read about those dogs who save their owners from blazing fires or raging flood waters, run for help when their human has a heart attack, or find their way home from hundreds of miles away. Dogs who can sniff out drugs at airports, safely lead the way for vision-impaired owners, or fend off an intruder. Both Lizzy and Koda missed those memos.
We love our King of Consumption, and he loves us. But we suspect the real reason he loves us is because we can reach the countertop, open the frig and pantry, occasionally drop something from the dinner table…and because we have opposable thumbs which can open those pesky food containers he knocks down when we’re not home.