I realized the other day that it’s been a couple months since I updated you on my personal life. No one’s asked for an update, of course, but I figured the fan letter that said, “Send me the music from Running Scarred because I dont know how to use the internet except for email and this is the first time I have used email I swear so please hurry,” was probably from a non-English speaker who really meant to ask, “How’s your girlfriend, Aimiee, and the child you abandoned in Nebraska last fall?”

Well, I have good and bad news about Xing, our adopted son who’s really our daughter. The good news is she’s doing really well for herself in Lincoln, Nebraska, having been accepted for early enrollment at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln at the tender age of seven. She’s also reclaimed her natural name of Zhen, along with the gender Aimiee and I denied her. (Don’t judge our gender reassignment until you’ve seen for yourself how it can have a down side.) As is the case with almost all children, Zhen got bored while waiting for school to start, so she took advantage of her free time and created a new iPhone “app” that tells you how much longer you’ll be able to hold out before you break down and buy the latest iPhone.

I’m so proud of my little boy-girl! She’s all grown up now. This bird has flown, it’s time to let her make her own mistakes, as parents we set the bar as low as possible so she’d have nowhere to go but up, et cetera, et cetera, and so forth. Of course, despite her genius status, Zhen’s new family in Lincoln still sees her as a seven-year-old who needs love and attention and discipline, but frankly I think that’s an insult to someone of her caliber.

So now Aimiee and I are childless again, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want companionship. Recently we adopted a basset hound at the local animal shelter, and on a whim we named her Baby, but we immediately wondered how it might affect her self-esteem — she keeps looking at us with those big, wet eyes, making us feel guilty about our decision.

Recently I caught Baby eating some DVDs I was given years ago for birthdays and acquittals but still haven’t watched. I was pretty mad, so I made her feel guilty as hell about what she’d done, at which point I assumed we were even. But in June I read a story in the Chicago Sun-Times that said guilt isn’t part of a dog’s emotional vocabulary.

According to Alexandra Horowitz, an assistant professor at Barnard College in New York, dog owners merely see guilt in their pets’ eyes when a canine crime’s been committed, or even when they just suspect one’s been committed. Dogs are nothing more than remorseless DVD-eating machines, or maybe Baby’s act of violence was just her way of saying I should switch to Blu-ray.

I also read an Associated Press report that said half of all American pet owners “consider their pets as much a part of the family as any other person in the household,” and “nearly a third let them sleep in a human bed.” Aimiee and I haven’t gone that far, but we have made significant progress in teaching Baby how to make our bed. I’m not sure if she’ll ever understand “hospital corners,” but it’s still quite a trick.

Aimiee and I would love for Baby to meet Zhen, but not as some sort of pathetic attempt to make Zhen jealous, if that’s what you’re thinking. Okay, maybe a little jealous. Or just guilty for not coming back to us after I abandoned her. I know for a fact that people can be made to feel guilty, and if they make dogs fight and their name is Michael Vick, they can be found guilty too.

In order for our dog who we wish was a baby to meet our daughter who we wished was our son, we would probably drive to Lincoln after flying from Wheeling, Illinois, into Denver on Pet Airways, which took its first flight on Tuesday. The new airline, operated by husband and wife Dan Wiesel and Alysa Binder, caters exclusively to pets, who travel in the main cabin in carriers that take the place of regular human seats. And according to the AP, “at each of the five airports it serves, the company has created a ‘Pet Lounge’ for future fliers to wait and sniff before flights.” Who says air travel is nothing more than elevated blood pressure, nonexistent leg room, and racial profiling? Pet Airways, that’s who.

Getting back to the subject of hot new iPhone applications, my lawyer/friend Dave-o has a client who’s almost as smart as Zhen. Let’s call him “Walt” for the time being. He’s invented an app that can translate dogs’ thoughts into English, just like in the movie Up, except the translation shows up as text on your iPhone, not as dialogue emanating from an electronic collar. Therefore the two ideas are completely different and there’s no need for Pixar and Disney’s platoon of lawyers to send me any threatening letters.

I tested out the app on Dave-o’s three-year-old black Lab, Murray, but I’m not sure he’s going to like what his talkative pooch had to say …

Hi! Hello! My name is Murray! It’s good to be here! Hello! I’m glad to be talking to you!

Okay okay okay, I will calm down now. I will sit. I am catching my breath now. What a funny thing to say — “catching my breath.” I can sometimes catch a Frisbee, but I do not know how to “catch” my breath. Maybe it’s like chasing a car or chasing your tail — you’ll never catch it, even if you live to be 15!

I have so much to say!

Okay, I need some water now.

Ah, that was good. That was very good. I was so thirsty.

I am still thirsty. I need some more water.

Okay, now— hey, what’s that on the TV?! Oh, it’s a grasshopper. Never mind. I really am sorry for the delay. Or am I?

Hahaha, that was a joke, because dogs don’t feel guilty about things, remember? Here’s what I think — if you look at a dog and you think he looks guilty, he probably just ate a grasshopper. Trust me, I should know.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the phone! I want to talk about the phone!

My master is always using his phone. Inside the house, outside the house, in the car, in the park. Everywhere! Even the man who used to bring the newspaper was always on the phone. Who was he talking to that early in the morning? I would ask him, but I never see him now that my master reads all the news off his phone. (Does that mean “Go on the paper” now means “Go on the phone”? No, it does not. Let me repeat — no, it does not.)

One time I met an old, tiny dog named Ricardo. He told me the phone used to just be in the house. Then someone cut the cord off it and people started taking the phone everywhere. And then they started using it everywhere.

Ricardo says people get lonely and that’s why they talk on the phone so much. But dogs get lonely too. So if our masters just talked to us, none of us would be lonely, yes? Everybody would be happy.

(Excuse me for a second. I really have to lick this one place. It’s kind of become an obsession. Okay, done.)

I will ask you a question now — can a phone sit at your feet while you watch the baseball game? I wanted to know, so that is why I picked up my master’s phone with my teeth and dropped it at his feet last week. He got mad and said I broke it. I didn’t mean to! (No, I did not feel guilty.) But now maybe he will see how easy it is to break your best friend. (This dog’s a poet! —RC)

I am not saying you should never talk on the phone when I am with you. That would be bitchy.

Hahaha, that was a joke. Okay, it was sort of a joke. But sometimes I think if you didn’t have that leash I could walk off and you would never notice. And sometimes when you’re on the phone and you are not paying attention and you walk me out into the middle of the street and a car almost hits us, I wonder which one of us belongs on that leash. (He’s a philosopher too! —RC)

If you only talked on the phone while I’m doing my business, that would be okay. I do not like when you watch me. You don’t watch me, I won’t watch you. I promise I was not watching you that time you thought I was watching you. I can’t be blamed if you won’t close the door. You get distracted very easily when you’re talking on the— hey, what’s that on the TV?! Oh, it’s a car that is on fire. That looks pretty. A little scary, but pretty. Now a man is yelling on a phone in front of the car that is on fire. Everybody is on the phone all the time.

Where was I? Oh yes, our walks!

My master used to talk to me when he’d take me on a walk. Oh, the things we’d talk about! We talked about baseball and tennis balls and Frisbees, and cats and clouds and clouds that are shaped like cats, and fleas and ticks and worms, and little boys and girls who pet too hard and how I could stick my nose somewhere they didn’t want me to if I wanted them to go away.

My master and I were best friends! Now his phone is his best friend. But I bet that phone can’t tell you any funny jokes about all the new bulldogs in our neighborhood. (Q: Why do all bulldogs automatically go to heaven? A: Because it’s not fair they have to go through life looking like hell.)

What happened to our time, master? I promise I would not ignore you if you were me and I was you. And don’t say it will never happen, because Ricardo says his master used to say that people would never buy computers they could use at home. Now they can’t go two minutes without checking their computer mail on their phones.

Dogs can’t use phones or computers, so we will never ignore our masters to talk to our dog friends instead, but here I am talking in English and you are understanding it. Tomorrow, the world!

No, I am joking. But if we did take over the world, remember, we would not feel guilty about treating you like squirrels.

I have to yawn now. That felt good! I am tired.

I will stop talking now. But I am talking for dogs everywhere when I say that we just want our masters to pay more attention to us, especially when we go on walks. You are our best friend, and you will always be our best friend. We hope we are still yours. So please do not ignore us. Talk to us and rub our bellies and we will give you more love than any phone ever could. We can even vibrate if you curl up close enough to our— hey, what’s that on the TV?! Oh, it’s just an ad for a phone. Yeah, like the world needs more of that.

… Dave-o’s dog even knows the rule of threes! Wow. If Pet Airways doesn’t watch out, soon its passengers will be flying the planes themselves.

Sly & the Family Stone, “Dog” (from 1967’s A Whole New Thing)
Tito Puente, “Lucky Dog” (from 1997’s The Best of Tito Puente: El Rey del Timbal!)
Ben Folds, “Dog [Alternate Version]” (from 2006’s Supersunnyspeedgraphic, the LP)
Lou Donaldson, “Hot Dog” (from 1969’s Hot Dog)
Matt the Electrician, “My Dog” (from 2006’s One Thing Right)
Eugene Mirman, “Dogs” (from 2006’s En Garde, Society!)

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About the Author

Robert Cass

Robert Cass lives in Chicago. For Popdose he's written under the Sugar Water, Bootleg City, and Box Office Flashback banners and collaborated on the series 'Face Time with Jeff Giles and Mike Heyliger.

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