The Happiness of Dogs

Margery and BrunoThe peonies were in bloom, but the bathtub soap dish still was detached and the roaches still infesting the patch behind the radiator. Audrey was focusing today on candelabra. If only the right wall fixture could be found she wouldn’t feel so glum.  She could take her collection of rubber duckies and affix them somehow to the brown cement square where the soap dish used to be. Audrey’s dogs, an Australian shepherd and a mutt from the pound, didn’t mind the missing cabinet on the wall or the brown spot on the black tile next to the tub where the soap dish used to be. Audrey tried to focus on the happiness of the dogs. The Australian shepherd, Sydney, bounded up at the drapes in the living room, bit an edge of the drapes coming down on his feet and then spun around after his tail. The other dog, a border collie mix, Agatha, was on her hind legs licking the remnants of butter off the galley kitchen counter. “Agatha Christie, stop licking the counter!” Audrey shouted slapping her hindquarters playfully. “What did I tell you about paws on the counter?” Audrey knew she was infantilizing the dogs, but she couldn’t help herself.

The sky was purple again and the air was heavy enough that Audrey couldn’t bear to keep the bathroom door closed or even the shower curtain drawn all the way. The dogs lulled on the floor, rolling around after their chew toys with their tongues hanging out, but other than the flashing of their tongues, they didn’t show any signs of discomfort. They were similar to shallow, but well-intentioned and kind extroverts, who skimmed the surface their whole lives untroubled. Audrey looked at herself in the bathroom mirror as the fog on the glass from the shower evaporated and studied what looked like the earliest signs of crow’s feet and maybe a specter of a jowl. That’s another thing about dogs, she said to herself. You can tell an old dog by his gait and sometimes an old dog with distinctive markings loses the vividness of those markings, but there’s nothing hangdog in the face about an old dog. If there were, of course, the dog wouldn’t care anyway.

Audrey eyed the pet catalogs on the wooden chest that served as her coffee table and decided what she needed was to see in dogs; instead of seeing her worn human face, to see the face of a dog with tongue hanging out chewing up a sneaker or pair of sunglasses. With her nail scissor and scotch tape, Audrey began cutting up dog pictures from the catalog and taping them to her bathroom mirror. When every corner and square of the mirror was covered over with the soothing lull of dog tongues, floppy ears and bushy tails, Audrey smiled. “I’ve brought myself into the dog house,” she said out loud to no one but the dogs. Soon I’ll be as good as a cocker spaniel.” She then laughed and decided to get dressed as if she were more dog than human. That meant not regarding herself in the long mirror on the living room wall that came with the apartment and picking clothes based on sensory delight. She pulled a light bright green sundress from the closet along with a bright pink scarf and stuffed four-inch purple high heel sandals into her small leather backpack. Audrey then sniffed at the front door of her apartment, keen to the smell of cooking down the hall. Could it be cinnamon muffins or Danishes or maybe just someone wearing sweet-smelling heavy perfume.

Dogs in modern NYC increasingly resemble humans so taking the dog’s stance on life isn’t hard. When Audrey picked out her walking shoes—red sandals with rubber soles—she knew there was a Dachshund somewhere in New York with a similar pair, claws sticking out, maybe even painted claws, sticking out.

On the sidewalk, an invisible leash halting her neck from turning fully around or looking too down or too far off to the sides, Audrey pulled herself to the office, the men and boys glanced as far as she could see on her leash cooing at times like you would at a sweet Yorkie in a sweater or snickering as if they were looking at an infirm animal—or so it seemed. At other times she felt ignored at the back of a diaphanous cage with bars she couldn’t see but were there enough to impede anyone from seeing her. There were so many other animals in front of her she couldn’t even see the stoplight. There were times another’s unseen but felt leash intertwined with Audrey’s and she pushed it off, the other animal glaring back at her. She grunted as a human animal form of barking. “Well, not like I tried to sniff you,” she snapped at one intertwiner. The intertwiner turned back puzzled and even may have said “excuse me,” but Audrey just grunted again and cocked her head. “I don’t have to answer because I don’t really understand her anyway,” Audrey thought to herself. “In fact I hear their words and know their combinations of words but they usually don’t mean anything to me. They’re just commands you can follow or not follow and either get rewarded or punished for.”

The other animals put their nose in the air and head down to the cups they were carrying as if sniffing out their direction. They should have known where they were going but unlike pointer dogs they sniffed down at themselves instead of out. Other animals blew smoke back at Audrey so that she pulled her nozzle away and wondered what kind of animal would deliberately poison itself. Or maybe it was the air version of an octopus’s underwater ink clouds. She ran ahead of them breathing out but not breathing in, unwilling to take in the poison smoke they emitted. She noticed a fur version of a dog—one of her brethren—jerk his head away when one of the cigarette-holding animals twirled her hand in his direction.

At the office, you remained in your enclosure or pen, for the most part. Everyone had a cordoned-off box with desk and chair—at the very least, not expected to sit on the floor. The dogs were allowed to sit on the furniture here. Audrey resumed her language skills being in the office and knowing the full dog she knew herself and others to be had to be suppressed in the business setting. She put aside the urge to bark and became the panting self you to be in an office. Walking alongside her boss, Samuel, to the copy machine, she treaded at his side looking up at him and “Yesing,” “Noing” and laughing with the ends of her dress swaying slightly from side to side. “Oh, that’s funny!” she said.

Samuel didn’t look down too often in her direction; he would look down, give her an instruction and then look ahead again. “Oh, yeah, before I forget, I need you to send me a list of the people you invited to the meeting next week.” Audrey then said “sure,” and as if being unhooked, turned on her heel to her cubicle settling down to her chair though longing for the kind of cushiony dog bed she used to share with her Labrador growing up. Her father and the Lab, Madame, would go out for a walk in the early morning and Audrey would curl up in the dog bed fully asleep again by the time they returned. In her cubicle, Audrey would bunch up one of the pashminas she kept in her desk drawer, make a pillow out of it and curl up under the desk for a nap once in a while. Her cubicle was bound by the wall, so since people could only pass by in front the cubicle rather than behind, she couldn’t be seen under there. People would peep into the cubicle, and not seeing her, assume she had just stepped away from her desk for lunch or a bathroom break.

It was a fire drill day so Audrey and her co-workers were instructed to wait for the bells and then make their way to the top of the staircase at the nearest exit. They were instructed to wait there quietly, listen to the fire marshal’s commands and then think about what they would do in a real fire.  They were told there would be an orange flag to follow as they made their way down the sidewalk to their pre-planned meet-up posts.  “I can’t remember, who are we following today?” Gilbert, one of Audrey’s co-workers, asked as they headed to the exit. He circled her and then bobbed his head forward in the general direction he thought they should go. “Beats me,” said Audrey. “I’m just following all these people. Who knows? When it’s a real fire you know no one will know where to go anyway, right? I papered over my bathroom mirror this morning with dog pictures I cut out of magazines because I was so bored,” she said. Gilbert sniffed critically. “Okaayy,” he said in that drawn out way people do to signify that they think something you’ve said is too weird to consider. “Yeah, I just wanted to see dogs instead of myself all the time.” Gilbert gave no response to this; he just kept motioning with his head nodding in the direction of the exit. Everyone stood up to listen to the fire marshal, but Audrey decided to sit on top of a nearby table. People stared as if there were a rule about not sitting on tables in the workplace. “But I even sit Agatha and Sydney in dining room chairs sometimes,” she thought to herself. People snickered while the fire marshal spoke but Audrey kept her eyes trained on feet, inspecting and considering shoes and shoelaces. She saw half-painted toenails sticking out of flip flops, many pairs of sneakers and the khaki men with their loafers so stiff they turned up at the toe. “Familiarize yourself with your exit plan,” the fire marshal said. “You’d be surprised. You see this area everyday, but when it’s filled with smoke and the alarms are going off, and you have an emergency on your hands, how hard it can be. Everything looks different in that situation. Close your eyes sometime and practice making it from your desk to the exit.”

Audrey stifled her laugh and it ended up coming out like a short whiney bark. She thought that she’d probably get hurt tripping blindfolded before she would ever get injured in a fire. She wondered if she could just follow the scent of the janitors’ heavily perfumed aftershave to find her way out, or the smell of the hair gel of one of the men who sat near her, or maybe the scent of printer toner from the printer near the exit. Wherever Audrey went, she trailed and was followed by the scent of other humans and their vices. She put her hand up to cover her nose sometimes at lunch to avoid the gassy smell of pungent vegetables (was broccoli a vice?) and fried fish and tried to avoid the antiseptic of the early morning that was in the hallways and especially in the bathroom. “I’d prefer an un-sanitized morning for once,” she thought to herself as the fire drill gathering dispersed, passing by the bathroom and kitchen.

Here off-the-leash time was hours away—if such a time ever existed—so Audrey tried to concentrate on her work retrieving files and facts of data to fill in a graph relating to the salaries of different professions. It was a reflexive two-part routine. First she would look up the profession on the US Labor Department’s web site and then she would fill in the graph. Her eyes sometimes mixed up which salaries should go in which rows, and suddenly a waiter had an annual salary of $120,000 and a financial advisor earned $25,000. She didn’t think it mattered that much because she couldn’t imagine ever consulting a graph before making a decision. She liked to bound after her balls. Audrey decided then to put away the graph and begin striding back and forth the length of the office. She carried a notebook and pen with her so anyone watching would just assume she was late for a meeting. She couldn’t go directly back and forth in a straight line because then everyone’s strangeness alert would go up, so she strode first in a straight line to the back of the office and then circled along the perimeter. She stopped at Herman Welker’s desk. Herman had a lazy eye and wore a dress shirt and tie everyday with a pair of jeans. Nobody else in the office wore a dress shirt and tie, but despite his jeans, he felt the need to do it for some reason. “Herman, do you have anything I could chew on?” she asked. “I’m just dying for some gum or one of those chewy candies.”  Herman looked at Audrey and smiled eyeing her up and down and adjusting his tie. “Nope, sorry, nothing today. Why don’t you just go to the vending machine?” Audrey considered this but then decided she didn’t want to pay for something to sink her teeth into. She wanted to be given it as a gift or reward. “I don’t know,” she said. “I was just hoping someone would happen to have something like that in one of their desk drawers.”

Audrey retreated to her desk and sat down to the chiming bell that signaled new e-mail in her inbox: “Calabaster Industries is pleased to announce its partnership with Employment Mile Ltd., suppliers of employment and job aids and related tools,” the memo read. “Leveraging the information databases of Calabaster with the resources of Employment Mile will give customers of both companies unparalleled service.” So, her company had been acquired. The memo didn’t say anything about the employees of the two companies, but as Audrey’s company was the one that had been purchased, her professional fate was not so different from a dog at the shelter waiting to be adopted. Who knows if you’ll be taken, and if you’re taken, who knows how you’ll be treated? Once taken, what kinds of new tricks will you have to learn and what new rules will the new owner’s house require?  Audrey circled around her cubicle shuffling paperclips, pens and pushpins, rearranging all the contents of the wraparound desk that created a nearly half-circle around her. She emptied boxes of paperclips and put the pushpins inside instead and dusted off the surface dipping a Kleenex into an old bottle of water.

Just then Ben, Audrey’s boss, walked up with his clipboard and sat in her cubicle’s spare chair. He was one of those usually happy types because he was too shallow to feel too much of anything so the default was happiness. He was the ultimate dog. “What do you think?” he said waving a printed out sheet with the memo on it. “What do you think? Could be good for us—more money now to position ourselves in the market.” Audrey just smiled and nodded. “Yeah, it seems like it could be a help.” She then tried to block Ben out fixing her eyes again to the computer screen and glancing back at him just every now and then, smiling, hoping he would take the hint and move on. “You know we’ll have to watch ourselves,” he said. “It isn’t definite yet, but it looks like all communications with outside groups will go through a review process,” Ben said.  He took out a manual that had been shipped to him via overnight delivery. The cover said “Indices of Recommendation and Approval: Your Guide to Submission.”  Audrey laughed and pointed. “What’s that? Do we really have to use it?” Ben also laughed but instead of tossing it in her cubicle’s trash bin, he opened it up and scanned a few pages with his index finger. “Our use of brand names,” he said seriously. “We need to start adding trademarks and when we make a mention of our company we have to use the tagline—every time—“The Last Word in Employment and Labor News.” Audrey tried to ignore him, typing even as he was talking. “That’s a little shallow and clichéd, don’t you think?” she asked. “We’re aligning our messaging,” he said, “so we can have cohesion and work as a team.”

Audrey paused in her typing, tuning Ben out though nodding and smiling for the sake of avoiding an argument. But in her mind she saw a dog sled like the kind that race in Alaska and herself as one of the dogs in the “team.”  She wondered if Ben realized that he wasn’t one of the mushers leading the sled but one of the dogs. The sad part was she didn’t doubt the sled would get to where the new parent company wanted it to go, but that she wouldn’t like that destination. But what else could she do but move her paws when the musher called? There may not be another “team” to be leashed to for a while, and didn’t she need to be leashed to somebody’s sled?  The thought of wandering off in the snow with her little paw prints covered over fast by fresh powder made her shiver.  “Oh, Ben, she said, “I think I feel like a Husky dog today.” Ben laughed and walked off. “Well, then,” he said.

Audrey returned to her labor statistics, placing numbers in columns and rows and being pretty sure she was transposing figures here and there, and not caring. She could always claim ignorance if anyone asked. The truth was she believed nobody read the articles and charts about labor news that she put together. Who cares how many dentists there are and how much money they make on average, anyway? If you want to be a dentist, be a dentist. Or if you want to be a pastry chef, just be a pastry chef. If you were interested in such a specialty, would you really all of a sudden change your mind if you found out too many dentists were entering the marketplace or that dentists were making a few thousand less this year versus last year?  Then Audrey remembered that Travers Pimbers would be in tomorrow and he liked to review her charts. The good part was with the merger, he may use up most of his time in the office reviewing can and can’ts of the submission guide. The Pimbers Roundtable would convene. That’s what Audrey called the meetings in which Travers sat at the center of the table and pointed to each person to speak with his laser light pen—one of those pens that have a light at the tip. He wielded it like a sword and never smiled. Everyone usually kept silent until Travers pointed at them with the light and then, instead of just saying whatever it was they were thinking of, they always got a worried look on their face like a game show contestant who’s been stumped with an enormous prize at stake–or at least embarrassment in front of the audience. Lean deli meats like turkey and wrap sandwiches would be ordered along with chocolate chip cookies matching the exact number of people expected at the meeting. Audrey brought a pen and paper to these meetings but primarily to have something to twittle in her hand and to draw with in case she felt like doodling.  She would discuss the merger, the guide to submission and the roundtable with Agatha and Sydney, the dogs, that night.

The apartment was in its usual disarray thanks to Agatha’s and Sydney’s housekeeping. Once again the refrigerator had somehow been pried open and the cereal and cracker boxes Audrey kept in there to keep away from the roaches were lying on the floor with some of the boxes’ contents spilled out. Luckily, the only perishable food in the refrigerator was yogurt, which usually withstood being unrefrigerated for several hours. “Agatha and Sydney, how could you do this to me again? After I work so hard?” Audrey said to the dogs who galloped back and forth the length of the apartment in their happiness to have her home. “And what are you so happy about? Is it just me?” Agatha jumped up on her hind legs leaning her paws against Audrey’s stomach and Sydney circled around her panting, tail wagging vigorously. “Happy, happy, happy,” Audrey said. “You’re like some people—always happy for some reason.”

As happy as the dogs were, they did follow a guide for submission and did wait for approval before moving forward. Like many dogs, they sought to please their owner and would often look back at Audrey with a cocked head when she looked at them angrily. They learned that she didn’t like when they hovered around the refrigerator, so they waited now a few feet away, patiently sitting with their heads angled up, noses in the air twitching. Audrey handed them their biscuits as a reward and considered how she and her co-workers would hover near the conference rooms during meetings attempting to overhear. They were never given an incentive to do otherwise so they just hung out at the closed doors waiting for a word about their fate to trickle out. Actually, just the opposite, the employees were motivated to hang around the door to the conference room like cats on a dock waiting for the fishermen to come in. There was always hope that the lack of intelligence would be relieved with left over bagels or maybe a wrap sandwich or Greek salad. The dogs chomped on their biscuits and Audrey planned out in her mind where she would be best situated at the conference room table for first access to the bagels. She realized it would be smarter to focus on preparing information Travers Pimbers might be interested in, but she preferred to focus on bagels, so like any dog, that’s what she did.

Travers Pimbers in his pink dress shirt and khaki pants (his attempt to look downtown NYC hip) stood at the screen at the front of the room pointing at the projection of a laptop computer screen. Audrey looked at the ceiling and at the yellow of the girl’s sundress sitting across from her; she kept her eyes on various fixed points like a ballerina spinning so she wouldn’t become dizzy or lose balance. “The alignment of our core values in everything we do is central to becoming the kind of company our customers need us to be,” said Travers rotating his head and stopping at each rung in the turning of his neck. The slow, stilted way he turned his neck reminded Audrey of opening a child proof bottle of pills—you could almost hear his neck cracking stiffly as he slowly turned it. “That core value alignment is at the heart of our new and vigorous review process. It is our way of saying to customers we hear you and are communicating a unified message,” he said. Audrey reached for a bagel and concentrated on the alignment of the cream cheese, attempting to have an equal distribution across the two halves of the bagels.

The question was why more time wasn’t taken to provide a more fulfilling selection of bagels—or any selection at all. “You know, they make all sorts of bagels these days—blueberry, everything, salt, onion, egg, whatever you can think of. Why always plain bagels?”

“It’s a simple process, really,” Travers continued. “An 11-part approval that aligns our culture. You just begin the process with a self-review first, a critical look at your own communications.” Audrey savored the bagel as best as she could making her eyes go out of focus to avoid the clocks on the walls. The room had been decorated with clocks so there was a clock on every wall surrounding the table; a clock that was ordinary on one wall; another with a Chinese dragon painted on it and the times of all the major Asian countries and then an oversize clock with neon hands and then a clock that told the minutes and hours in tasks accomplished. It could be marked up and erased so the current top projects in the company could be listed on it. With the merger in full swing, the clock was consumed with alignments—“alignment of central and peripheral values, alignment of cross-functional role development, alignment of critical decision-making, alignment of competitive advantage.” A cuckoo clock with a little bird that charged out at intervals would be a welcome addition to the room, Audrey thought to herself. Something to shake up line after line of pre-planning.

Travers was walking around the conference table now smiling and pointing at people with his laser pen. “And Louis here knows just what I mean when I talk about alignment of strategy. Last quarter his group took the poly bag program for our Labor Monthly and added coupons for employment agencies. We did a public service there and provided an additional stream of revenue for a new advertiser. Why don’t you tell us about that, Lou?” Lou smiled and nodded and then glanced around the table. “Yes, that’s true. It has been a real profit center for us, taking advantage of a lot of synergies,” Lou said. There was a pause in which Lou cleared his throat repetitively, looked around the room making eye contact, nodded and smiled. “Yes, we’re proud of our accomplishments.” Travers also smiled, looked around the room and patted Lou on the shoulder. “Alignment of synergies—that’s what it’s all about.”

Audrey felt out of alignment with the cream cheese slopping over the side of her bagel onto the conference room table. She had over-spread, she supposed. “By the way, I don’t buy into the idea that the review process is too comprehensive,” Travers said. “We have to have process.”  The process of eating an overflowing bagel without getting your work clothes dirty in the middle of a process discussion at a “roundtable” in a conference room lined with clocks is hard. For one thing you have to pretend like you’re listening and care about the process being described, so you nod, and then you have to make sure each bite doesn’t dribble cream cheese on your buttons because it’s one thing to wipe cream cheese off a collar or shirt or dress, but another to try to ease it out of the minute crevices of a button. And then every so often you have to (painfully) put down the overflowing bagel and pretend to take notes, knowing all along you just plan to sketch a chain of hearts and maybe some concentric boxes. “Yeah, that’s true,” Audrey said smiling and nodding at Travers and making eye contact with everyone around the table. “That’s a good point. Process is a cornerstone for us.”

Travers smiled, and Audrey thought, winked at her, and tapped the projection screen with his pen. “I’m glad to hear you say that, Audrey. Because process is what we’re getting. At the beginning of every month, or I should say the first Wednesday of every month, I will ask each of you to submit to me 150-word descriptions of all of your current projects including when your manager asked you to deliver them completed and when you estimate they will really be done. You will log into our online portal’s Base Camp at the start of your day and tell us how close you are to getting to the last first Wednesday-of-the-month’s goals.”

Audrey remembered as she polished off the remnants of the bagel that she was trying a new training technique with Sydney and Agatha. She tried to focus on dog faces and away from Base Camp.  Audrey was in the process of training them to go back to their dog beds on command and could get Sydney and Agatha to bring her their toys and then deposit them in front of their dog beds. “Show me your toys,” she would say and the dogs would scamper off and bring back two toys at a time in their mouth. She wanted the dogs to be able to bring her the toys in a particular order, but they weren’t able to do that yet for some reason. Audrey wondered if it was a task beyond their abilities or if they just didn’t feel like it. She had offered dog biscuits as an incentive, but that didn’t do the trick so she was now sprinkling doggie treats in a circular path from their toy basket to the center of the kitchen hoping, at the very least, to be able to determine the path they took when delivering the toys. “Why can’t you bring them to me in order?” she would ask the dogs looking at her with cocked heads.

Travers picked up about five plastic folders in colors ranging from red to yellow to blue and began explaining their uses. “The orange is for the monthly review of facts obtained, the blue is for facts reviewed, stage 1, the yellow is for facts double-checked, stage 2, the green is for cross check of facts via peer review, the purple is for supervisor approval step 1 and the clear folder is the all-clear sign, so to speak, that your supervisor has looked over the document, signed it and is ready for it to be released. We still want you to e-mail and electronically register all projects in Base Camp but the plastic folders offers the added security that should our electronic systems fail, the approval process will continue undamaged,” he said.  Travers then took out his cell phone and opened up one of the folders to a dummy page and took a photo of it. “And this is the way you should document each folder’s contents before it leaves your hands to protect yourself,” he suggested. “This isn’t required, but I strongly encourage you do it for your own protection.”

The meeting over, Audrey kept the dogs in mind as she walked back to her cubicle including the indoor pad she had bought to guard against accidents. She was slowly training Sydney and Agatha to use the pad instead of the floor if she were late getting home to walk them. They didn’t seem to mind having a part of their territory segmented off and designated. Audrey noticed on her walk back to her corner buffeted by window and collapsible wall that multicolored bins had been erected throughout the office. They were drop-boxes for each step of the new process. Audrey couldn’t imagine the patience that would be required to complete each step in the process before finishing a task—the tediousness she anticipated was immobilizing. Sydney and Agatha, her dogs, tromping around the apartment extending paws onto the counter against her wishes, came into her mind and how their torsos jumped upward when they were excited about a person whose footsteps they recognized.  They abided by her rules but consistently leaped past the threshold as soon as she opened the door. Audrey began rolling through the photos of the dogs on her phone as she settled into her corner cube. Agatha shoving a ball at the feet of a passerby on the sidewalk; Sydney with her paws up against the window of a restaurant; Agatha and Sydney rolling around in the grass chomping on a half-deflated soccer ball; Sydney edging away when it was time to put her leash back on to leave the park.  Audrey then sent the photos to her work e-mail inbox. The dogs galloping and raising paws might be useful somehow at the office, she thought to herself. It was a process, alright, but a process featuring the stages of chaos or passionate existence in place of a series of checkpoints. It was the stages of the dogs’ happiness. Rather than working toward approval, they just appeared to be enjoying themselves.

The assignments with spreadsheets and all the quadrants Audrey had to divide her thoughts and work into were tiring. It felt like her brain had been chopped up into a hopscotch course and the ideas that used to be fluid were jumping from neural box to box, each box numbered rather than pictured. The dogs, paws and nose first in front of her, were tapping at those numbered blocks like they would to be let back into the apartment on a cold day. At the office, these spreadsheets did nothing for her, and at home, and she didn’t care to stay longer in the apartment—she wasn’t sure the dogs liked it.  It wasn’t that she wanted to throw away her job, but that she was tired of presenting consecutive spreadsheets. So, an exchange of canine reflections on numbers and boxes was in order. If she lost her job, she and the dogs could maybe move to Montana or some other place where real estate was cheap and start an artist’s colony.

Agatha baring her teeth in her trained “smile” pose: “Agatha, smile, smile, Agatha,” and up and back would go the big dog gums and what you might call a toothy grin would emerge. That image would go in the first folder with an accompanying digital file, just as Travers recommended. Sydney drooling over her half-deflated soccer ball was fit for the second folder and another of Sydney barking a squirrel up a tree was suitable for number three. Agatha slinking away from the table with a pot roast shank in her mouth was the fourth folder’s contents. Now would come the vast approval process—to approve an animal stealing the main course, an animal scaring a rodent up a tree, a drooling tongue-lolling-out animal clinging to a dysfunctional toy. And so many checkpoints for animals caught in the act, red-pawed!

Luckily, Ben, Audrey’s boss, enjoyed critiquing documents, but she suspected he didn’t read anything deep enough to process the information. So he might critique how the papers were placed in the folder or the font that was used to label each dog photo, but he probably would unthinkingly pass it up the chain of approvals. “You really want to present the material so you can see everything at a glance,” Ben said thumbing through the dogs-in-action. “Is there a way to illustrate the key points so the reader doesn’t have to search for it? Two or three seconds is all we get today to make our points—that’s all the modern reader gives us. The reader today really needs everything at a glance.”

Audrey smiled and nodded her head. “Yes, at a glance is really important. I see what you mean. Everything right away,” she said nodding and smiling wider.

“Absolute necessity for the reader today,” Ben said. “And I would align the margins of type with your descriptions of the graphics.”

“OK, sounds good,” Audrey said in her automaton task management voice. She went back to her desk and over the next hour aligned the margins and created a chart under each picture to illustrate for the reader “at a glance” what the dogs were doing. In the picture of Agatha pulling a hunk of meat off the table, Audrey illustrated with a pie chart that showed a quarter of the meal going to the dog and the rest to be shared by the human diners. Sydney chomping down on her half-deflated soccer ball was fit for a bar chart with the level of chomp measured by a blue bar while the level of soccer ball deflation was marked by a red bar.

Next stop on the road to approval was Sandra Davens, the newly appointed head of departmental reviews. Ben liked the “at a glance” charts, so after he initialed the corporate dogs montage, Audrey rounded a few cubicle corners to Sandra who sat with her thin back to the window. She had some sort of condition it was tacitly understood nobody was allowed to ask her about. She was only in her 50s, but her back was slightly hunched, her legs misshapen and her fingers crooked. Sandra smiled at Audrey. “Hi Audrey, what’s up?” she said. She was sympathetic toward the younger women in the office luckily. “Not much; just moving dogs around,” Audrey said. Sandra didn’t smile; she just cocked her head like one of the dogs staring at squirrels against the living room window. “I mean I have these documents for your review,” Audrey clarified. Sandra took a few minutes and quickly scanned over the dogged folders. “These will need to go through our legal review,” Sandra said. “We have to clarify the legal rights to the photos—even if you took them yourself—as to whether you or the company retains rights and whether we run the risk of liability for promoting the behavior depicted in the pictures—whether we would be seen as advocating anything. Anyway, there are a lot of issues. The legal review team needs to see this.” Audrey nodded solemnly and retreated again to the cornered cubicle.

The legal review, which returned with its requested revisions a week later, asked that a disclaimer be put at the bottom of the page stating that the company did not necessarily endorse or encourage any of the behavior seen in the photos. The review team also informed Audrey that the photos would become the property of the company once the document was distributed under the corporate name.

Next came the marketing review in which the dogs-in-action would be subject to a process of deciding whether they fit the company’s brand message. What would a dog slyly hauling off a hunk of someone else’s dinner say about a company, anyway?  “I think it would be a good idea to crop the table out of the photo so the dog is just carrying the meat rather than having the appearance of stealing it off the table,” Carole Duckly of Marketing said. “And I think you should minimize the teeth,” Carole said of the photo of Agatha grinning.

Minimizing the teeth and hiding the taking of the meat from a table not the dog’s own was fairly easy. Audrey laughed to herself as she did it, actually, not caring finally about the outcome of the review. There had always been a review process but this newly expanded review was just too much to be serious about. The reviewed documents in edited and redacted order, Audrey placed them again in the plastic colored folders. The next steps of the review would be at the executive level and wouldn’t involve her unless there was a significant problem. Would corporate releases to the public that consisted entirely of dog pictures be considered a significant problem?

No one seemed concerned about the dogs. Audrey didn’t hear anything for at least a few weeks and when she did get word, it was only to note that she had violated the review instructions by using a type font that was larger than recommended—in violation of the Go-Green initiative to use less paper by using a small type font that takes up less space.

One day as Audrey labored over whether it would be M&Ms, peanut M&Ms, M&M trail mix or a trip down the street for vanilla yogurt with miniature M&Ms, Travers came up from behind. “I saw the dogs this morning,” he said to her chuckling. “Did you see the dogs?” Audrey thought for a moment wondering if he was talking about her special project. “What dogs?” she asked.

Travers turned around and shook his finger wrapped around his laser pen at the office’s back window. There’s a dog show today down the street. It’s part of the circuit that eventually leads to Westminster, I believe.”

Audrey smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I think you may be right. It’s the season of the dogs, I guess.”

Travers put a hand on Audrey’s arm and leaned toward her. “Just between the two of us, I’m thinking of getting a puppy.” He said it in a way that conveyed a deep sense of shame or guilt or maybe just embarrassment. As if you were confessing to not being able to resist a slice of cake or a purchase you couldn’t afford or a thought that was elicit. “There’s just something about them, I’m not sure what—I don’t know, it’s like the way they run off-leash in the park, you know, in the off-leash-appropriate hours, of course,” he said. “I wanted to ask you, do you know anything about dogs?”

Audrey laughed thinking of her recent submission to the internal review process. “Well, not much, but I have a couple of dogs myself.” Travers swung back and forth from the heel of his shoe to the ball of his foot. “Really! I didn’t know that. What kinds?”

“Oh, just an Australian Shepherd and a mutt I got at the shelter,” Audrey said. “I love them—they’re so boundless.”

Travers cocked his head and gave a half smile. “Actually, that’s what I wanted to ask you about. What did you do about obedience training? How do you get them to not jump on things and bark inside the apartment?”

“Oh, I don’t bother—they jump, they bark, they steal things off the table,” she said laughing. “They have the run of the apartment. You know, I used to try, but it’s useless to try to get them to do what they’re not in the mood to do. What they want to do seeps out eventually. It’s bad enough being shut up in a house or apartment most of the day.”

“Not mine,” Travers said. “I’ve already looked into it. Every Saturday afternoon there’s a dog school that meets on the Great Lawn in Central Park. I’ve read a lot of good reviews about it. It’s supposed to work. I’m looking for a breeder now but I’ve already signed up for the school. You have to—months in advance—there’s a six-month waiting list, you know.”

“There are books, too,” said Audrey. “A lot on reward and punishment systems. You should start stocking up on dog biscuits—especially the ones with bacon inside. You can get dogs to do all sorts of stuff for bacon.”

You could see Traver’s by-color-organized plastic covered folders filled with dog training tips and classifications as he spoke. “There’s a lot to learn,” he said.

“I wouldn’t worry about it. I wouldn’t turn a dog into a big production if I were you,” Audrey offered.

“You, see, the way I look at it, the training of a dog is a process with steps to follow, Travers said. “You have to have process.”

He smiled, nodded (when Audrey looked at him unresponsive) and walked with his scissor-like legs back to his office.

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One Response to The Happiness of Dogs

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