for kirby

Non-fiction, 11/20/08

My roommate Amy is a great gal. She’s a Montessori teacher and a glutton for the outdoors, spending her summers hiking, backpacking, and hitchhiking to places where she can go hiking and backpacking. Amy’s also good with words. In the evenings she and I will engage in epic Scrabble-battles, during which we grow sullenly competitive and rack up 300 points apiece on a regular basis. Who likes to spell? We’ll destroy you!

Amy owns a dog named Kirby, a medium-sized collie mix with black fur and chestnut markings. Kirby is my nemesis. We have our quarrels, Kirby and I; the neighbors are mildly concerned. But he’s also a dear friend of mine. In short, we enjoy a lively love-hate relationship.

Kirby cantered into my life last June. He may have trotted, I can’t remember. The canter and trot are Kirby’s preferred modes of ambulation, but the equestrian similarities end there, I’m afraid. Gregarious with humans (as long as you aren’t the mailman), Kirby loves greeting visitors, even strangers. Roommates, especially. When someone arrives at the door he’ll run a messy figure-eight through our dining and living rooms, sneezing and snatching up dog toys mid-stride, panting raggedly all the while. Kirby is the only dog I know that sneezes from excitement. Mighty sneezes, head thrown back, dog snot flying every which way. Not just one, mind you, but multiple gusts, one after another in a spasmodic fit of delight. This happens every single time he gets worked up. And he’s an excitable dog.

Our kitchen is off-limits to Kirby. This is because we keep our composting bin on the floor, next to the counter, where it’s easy to access yet out of the way. This arrangement works for Kirby too, who, as we quickly discovered, is an adept dumpster-diver. On numerous occasions I’ve come home to a trail of refuse leading out of the kitchen, paved with coffee grinds and egg shells and whatever else that had been rotting in our compost, with Kirby nowhere to be found. He’s really good at knowing precisely when to hide. These swathes of consumption often terminate at some choice morsel, usually a buttermilk carton, chewed up beyond recognition. One time the aftermath extended up the stairs, with a masticated carton left in someone’s room as a trail marker. Needless to say, the household was not pleased. Thus we implemented a collapsible child-safety gate to block off the kitchen, and we keep it up whenever Kirby’s around. Dinners and potlucks are also tricky with this dog. We routinely perform “Kirb Checks” now during mealtimes: everyone looks around to locate Kirby, and to ensure that none of the food on our plates has curiously disappeared under the table. Sometimes I’ll still see him gazing longingly at the composting bin, dreaming of fragrant feasts, no doubt. For the most part, though, Kirby’s taken it pretty well.

Kirby, like most dogs, loves to go on walks. Simply reach for the leash and he’ll launch into a conniption of sneezing, lap-running and all-around pandemonium. It’s like magic. The actual walking of Kirby is pretty unremarkable, except when he poops. Kirby, talented canine that he is, likes to crap on things. Trees, bushes, fire hydrants, you name it. No open patch of grass will do. Provided he’s physically able to stoop and scrunch alongside an object, Kirby will try his best to grace it with turds. I’ve seen him shit through the slats of a fence. Apparently he once dumped on a tree stump. The dog’s a pioneer, putting poo where poo’s never gone before.

I feel privileged to know this pooch. Though we’ve had our spats, our scuffles, our trifling tiffs, Kirby and I remain the closest of chums. We’ve even developed a handy trick together: I snap my fingers loudly, and Kirby scurries out of the kitchen! Magic!

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