A few months ago, I hit upon an unexpected pleasure: providing dogs with treats. I always take a lunch/dinner to the river with me that includes cheese, lunchmeat, and crackers. Whenever I see my friend Jim’s dog, Katie, I give her little pieces of Tillamook sharp cheddar. At some point, I offered some to another dog (I can’t remember which one now) and realized the profound satisfaction of experiencing canine gratitude. This led me to start cutting up extra cheese for all the dogs I see. Of course, I always ask their moms and dads if it’s okay to give it to them. Almost all say yes. Many are amused and delighted that I’d go to the trouble and expense. (Really? How much can a teensy piece of cheese cost?) This not-so-random act of canine kindness proved so fulfilling, so much the antithesis of the demands and expectations in my life, that I began telling people I was embarking on a new career path: sitting by the river and feeding cheese to dogs.
While this park isn’t an official dog park, many people bring their furry friends here, and it’s far more common for them to be off-leash than on. I’m not a dog person, but I love watching dogs play, seeing the joyous way their bodies move. They really know how to have a good time. And while I’m not big on their doggy smell, or how they use their tongues the way a two-year-old kid uses his hands, I have the presence of mind to blame most bad behavior on the owner, rather than the animal. Watching a dog galumphing after a ball, seeing two of them frolic together upon meeting for the first time, or witnessing the devotion on a canine’s face as he gazes up at his human, I kind of wish I were a dog person.
Here at the river, most of the dogs are well behaved, and their owners conscientious. That’s been a big factor in my growing appreciation for these animals. It also helps that the canine regulars have such distinctive and charming personalities. Katie is seventeen years old, sweet and gentle, with a face that always seems to be smiling. Winston, who also sports an adorable grin, is very set in his ways. His toy of choice is a baseball bat, and he has a fondness for very big sticks. Abby wants to be snuggled even more than she wants bites of cheese. She can sit and do handshakes, and whenever she’d like another treat she’ll offer me her paw, unbidden.
Buddy is a young boxer who can leap four feet off the ground. He runs with an easy lope, his back paws almost seeming to have a mind of their own, performing little leaps and dance steps as he moves. Watching him play with other dogs, back end bouncing and twisting like a gymnast’s, is pure delight. Ollie, a pug so dark she looks black, has the endearing quirk of cocking her head whenever you say her name. She’s very sweet-tempered, opening her mouth expectantly to let me tuck the treat right inside. Lola, a bull terrier rescue, is as inclined to take a finger as a piece of cheese, but she doesn’t mean to. I’ve learned to offer the treat on a flat palm, forcing her to use her tongue. She, Abby, and Winston have all come to expect this Tillamookian bounty. They trot straight to me the moment they get here, and if I’m not around, their owners tell me they’ll circle my usual spot, looking for me.
One of my projects this summer has been to read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog posts about author branding and brainstorm ways to incorporate that information into my publishing business. But the other day I had an epiphany. Without intending to, I’ve been branding myself here at the river. I’m that crazy person who spent seven hours clearing the mud off the path last spring. The writer who uses this place as an outdoor office. The quirky individual who put up the Baby Groot sign. And, to dogs, the Cheese Lady.
I’m sure there’s an amusing lesson in this. Maybe a way to illustrate what the term “branding” means. But to me, the important thing is I’ve discovered another aspect of who I am. And it all began with feeding cheese to dogs.
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