This morning as I was settling into my desk chair to begin work, our dog Cooper walked over to me with the “kill” in his mouth. I’ve seen him do this more than 100 times over the past 18 months, and by now I can perfectly translate what the look in his eyes is saying: “Let’s play fox.”
I grew up with dogs and have had at least one all my adult life, except for a few years during college when dorm life prevented it. But I’ve never seen a dog get so attached to one particular toy. For Cooper, this stuffed orange fox is the equivalent of a toddler’s “lovey” or security blanket — with the primary difference being that most toddlers don’t want to kill or destroy their “lovey.”
Cooper is a corgi, which is a herding breed, and herding dogs like to have a “job.” Without a proper job, a corgi can go a little nutty and make getting into trouble his primary occupation. Cooper has decided that, in addition to following me around the house and barking at the doorbell, his main job is to defeat the fox. He won’t stop until he has strewn the toy’s white, cottony innards all over the living room, leaving it blanketed in what looks like fluffy, synthetic snow.
When he brings me the fox, it means he wants to play fetch with it followed by a rigorous game of tug-of-war, or, in this case, tug-of-fox. The fox is so desirable when it’s trying to get away, you see, and Cooper is never happier than when he’s sprinting across the room in hot pursuit. He scoops it up and triumphantly trots back to me with the fox tail dangling from his mouth.
If I’m busy and can’t play a game of fox, he’ll try to play by himself. He’ll fling the fox into the air, sending it flying across the room. Then he’ll pounce on it and chew it viciously as if he’s teaching it a lesson for attempting to escape his fearsome jaws. When he starts getting tired, he’ll lie on his back with all four short, stubby legs sticking up in the air while he lazily chews the defeated fox.
Cooper will play with this toy until it’s no longer stuffed and hardly recognizable as a fox. It’s reduced to a scrap of orange fur — a literal shell of its former self. When the scrap gets soggy and sticky with dog saliva, I quietly whisk it away for a proper burial in the kitchen trash can. Then I go to my closet and retrieve a basket on the highest shelf, which is where I keep my secret fox stockpile.
I have a few foxes in reserve because I’m worried the fox toy manufacturer will discontinue it one day, which would be like firing Cooper from his favorite job. I’ve already lost count of how many foxes we’ve gone through in the past year and a half.
When Cooper sees a fresh, crinkly, fluffy fox with a new squeaker, he falls in love-hate with it all over again, and the “defeat the fox” process repeats itself.
Cooper’s daily “job” makes him (and probably most dogs) more like humans than I previously thought. He needs to feel like he’s got a purpose, a mission. And he doesn’t want the job to be too easy or boring. He likes it when there are obstacles to overcome and he has to fight to the finish. He’s so passionate about his work that the kids and I have learned that we can’t say the word “fox” out loud unless we’re willing to follow it up with a spirited game of fetch-the-fox with Cooper.
I guess we all need a job to do, even if it’s not a job in the traditional sense. Even jobs without paychecks have benefits — the satisfaction of accomplishing something you set out to do (even when that “something” is disemboweling a toy fox).
Cooper’s job dedication makes it easy to get him what he wants for Christmas. All I have to do is wrap up a box with a fox. Merry Christmas, and let the games begin.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Her book is available on Amazon.