Sometimes I sit and study my petite pug Waffles. She is a portrait of perseverance and determination. The aspects of her personality I find annoying – tipping over trashcans, jumping gates – she considers an occupation. She is steadfast in her goals and she never detours. I watch her when I awake in the morning and her pattern is always the same. She watches me, waiting for me to drop my vigilant gaze, so she can jump the baby gate that blocks her way upstairs and then she is at it – thump, thump, thump, thump. The upstairs garbage pails go down one after another like a string of dominoes. She methodically checks them for secret delights – purposely sorting toilet tissue to the left, dental floss to the right, the choice and most stinky items directly in the mouth. She does the same for each trashcan and then starts on the laundry basket, discarding socks and tees for panties. These she pulls all the way out and drags to her nesting place. She dedicates herself to the cause, neither veering right or left, freezing if she thinks I see her, going into stealth mode.
When I go to retrieve something from the spare closet located in my nephew Christian’s room, she follows, jumping up on the small desk chair and from there onto the futon in hopes of nabbing another cherished prize – a stuffed dog I had given Christian for Valentine’s Day. She knows this is not her toy, but his, and thus, it has become a thing of value. While I browse the closet, she grabs the dog in her mouth and drops it near the edge of the futon. From there, she nudges it with her nose onto the chair, and this is where she always gets caught. I turn to find her pondering the situation. She cannot figure out how to get both she and her treasure off the chair and as she stops to consider the situation, her wrinkled brow even more deeply furrowed than usual, I foil the whole scheme, grabbing her and the dog and placing it back on the futon. We repeat this again and again, every time I enter Christian’s room.
It is easy to get frustrated with Waffles. Many times throughout the day you hear one of us in the household yelling “No,” or her name sounding as a sort of warning or threat, but the more I observe her the more I realize that there is something going on here. When Waffles lived at my friend Joan’s house, she learned many skills to survive. Joan’s house, filled to the max with other dogs, becomes a jungle of sorts. It’s survival of the fitness of sorts, each pug for itself. Dog toys are few to prevent the pugs from fighting over them, and so they find their own amusements – an empty dog food can, a toilet paper roll, or a pair of discarded underwear.
Landing a place on Joan’s comfy bed becomes a coveted goal, but since Joan would be endlessly occupied if she stopped to help each one up, the pugs are left to find their own way there. They do so by jumping from the floor to a cubby by the bed and then making an almost impossible second leap from inside the cubby to the bed itself. I visited the other day and watched Waffles’ mother, sister, and grandmother each do this maneuver and realized that in her two years living at Joan’s, she too, must have done this hundreds if not thousands of times, often with a pair of Joan’s panties in her mouth. This was her life and whether I consider it nature or nurture, instinct or learned behavior, the antics she undertakes now are ingrained in her. She seems to consider them her vocation in much the same way I do my writing. It is what she wakes up for each day.
Perhaps Waffles has little choice in her fate, compelled by powerful drives to engage in these behaviors, but I admire her anyway. So often I let outside voices deter me from my goal or I see a project as too big and give up. I can yell at Waffles, put up a gate, steal her away from her finds and moments later she is right back at it. She does not give up. She is tiny and the odds are so often stacked against her. She never waivers. I watch and I learn and I wonder what drives us. Why do we move forward and why do we give up and how can such a small, black creature be so fearless when I so often am not? I think of Waffles and her sister, their mother and grandmother making that blind leap from cubby to bed and I try in my mind to do the same. It may not be model behavior, but in the end, it seems behavior to model.
Writing Prompt: What behavior do you model?