Serious Business

The dog had her knees operated on a few weeks ago. She’s fine, but the doctors who sawed her bones and repositioned them casually, like puzzle pieces, told us it was imperative for activity to be limited during the eight weeks following the procedure. What’s a tricky, vague word like limited mean, you ask? In short, it means no fun at all.

The shit that generally makes up the majority of the dog’s reason for existing in the first place – running, jumping, roughhousing – is no longer allowed. Bones and scar tissue have to be provided time to heal and form, respectively, and the wrong celebratory pirouette or thoughtless leap could mean, I imagine, that her now-costly knees would disintegrate into a fine, useless powder. At around that point in the story, she’d howl in pain, I’d cry out in horror, and my bank account would jump off a fucking ledge into traffic.

In the absence of fun stuff, we’ve been left to circle the neighborhood slowly a few times a day. She carefully smells interesting/gross things (HOW ARE THERE CHICKEN BONES ON THE SIDEWALK EVERY GODDAMN DAY?), and I look around nervously, praying we’re lucky enough to avoid running into other canines. There’s almost nothing that instills the kind of life-altering joy in my dog, you see, than encountering another of her kind; each time feels like she’s greeting a rescue party after having been marooned on a desert island for years, talking to soccer balls and growing a righteous fucking beard.

The process when a new potential friend arrives is truly a thing to witness: First her whole body stiffens as she catches sight of another dog, then she drops her front half suddenly to the ground in a sort of clumsy pouncing maneuver. Finally, she rears up on her hind legs. I imagine that’s either a ferocious attack or an invitation to play.

Regardless of her intention, I yank my exuberantly dumb companion close to my side when we see the gorgeous, statuesque husky that lives down the street. This morning the dog’s owner and I exchanged a nod and a friendly smile as I dragged my animal aside to let them pass.

“Okay, let’s go,” the other guy said as they trotted away. “Come on, do your business.”

This has always struck me as a strange expression. On one hand I can’t help associations of employment and companies and that sort of thing, and I guess that’s almost reasonable; while we humans spend our lives in school or training for the jobs that’ll for the most part define us and occupy our time, dogs are obviously far simpler. When it comes to the rest of that reason for existing in the first place I mentioned earlier, well…it’s to shit, really. I suppose they sleep and eat and make for great YouTube videos, too, but by and large they’re on the planet to be furry consumption and disposal machines that bark like magnificent idiots when the train goes by at two in the morning.

On the other hand, however, do your business is sort of oddly intended to be reassuring and coaxing – and that, in and of itself, is a crazy thing, because the rational part of you knows the dog does not need emotional support. The dog does not need to be comforted by the knowledge that a stranger is not going to wander by and exclaim: “My word, Agnes! That horrible creature is exploding feces in public. On the day of the Sabbath, no less!”

There’s nothing that could make my dog or any other feel shame. Tell me any countering evidence you like, but I won’t believe it; she’s the same animal that’s been hobbling around with a patch devoid of fur for seven weeks after the surgeons shaved her to administer the epidural. If she had any concept of humiliation, she would have changed her name and run away to join the circus a month ago. It’s not embarrassment that phrase is trying to treat, though – you more just imagine a few words or the right tone of voice can help the dog get things moving, so to speak. You’re simply being understanding as your animal circles a particular spot uncertainly, trying to make sense of what must be a ridiculously complicated calculus that determines if a patch of grass is shit-worthy.

Now this is all very silly – I mean, I doubt they’re using their noses to test PH levels in the soil or gauge magnetic fields – but I’ve done the same dance plenty of times. I know people who can drop their pants just about anywhere and unleash the beast, as it were, but for me, the luxury of a single bathroom, with just one toilet and a door I can lock, is near essential. It gives me personal space, comfort, and the solitude necessary to review in detail all the poor culinary decisions that led me to my predicament. Given the choice, I’ll always select the option that provides more privacy, even if it means I have to go further to get it.

I’m reminded of something that happened at one of my last jobs; I worked in a mill building, and avoiding sharing with four to five people at once meant passing up a bathroom located perhaps fifteen steps from my employer’s office in favor of jogging (sometimes more urgently than others, sometimes whimpering desperately, sometimes losing all faith in the idea of the existence of God) up three flights of stairs and walking down three hallways for a single-occupancy number. I won’t lie to you – I enjoyed the Hell out of it. I went so far, in fact, as to recommend the bathroom to a colleague.

It wasn’t quite so simple as you fear – I didn’t just charge in the room and launch into a musical number or anything. The colleague had been complaining about the fact that using the bathroom near our office often meant waiting in line; the facilities were old and hastily retrofitted for use as offices, and as such they weren’t well designed for the amount of people that eventually had access to them. As the helpful connoisseur I am, I told her there were several single-person bathrooms upstairs if she didn’t want to wait. I’ll never forget the look she gave me; her face scrunched up violently, twisted by revulsion.

“No way, I’d never go up there,” she said. There was the sad, shellshocked weight of history behind her voice. “I’d rather wait.”

As a relative newcomer to the company and the building then, I was confused. “What’s the issue with upstairs?” I asked.

She looked me in the eye solemnly. “There’s a lot of people that work in this building,” she said. “And those bathrooms are the spot they hit when it’s time to do their serious business.”