A Dropped Food Cornucopia

By Mark Carlson
The Tale Wagging the Dog, San Diego Pets November 2012

President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Thanksgiving a National Holiday in 1941. The history of Thanksgiving is well known and some of it is even true. Whether or not the Pilgrims really sat with the Indians and celebrated the bounty of the Earth to take them through the winter is not as important as what it means to us today.

First, it’s a time for family and togetherness, of being grateful for the blessings we have. For many, it’s the beginning of the Christmas Season, the day before the madness of shopping begins at 12:01 a.m. at the department stores. Then there is the tradition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York and the raucous revelry during the football game. Good food, drink, laughter, music, that’s Thanksgiving in 21st Century America.

But to the furry quadrupeds that scamper around our feet all that Thursday morning and afternoon it’s something else.

Beg-A-Palooza! A Dropped Food Cornucopia, a Smell-a-Thon. Yes, our canine friends are awaiting that special day but not for the football. They want the dropped Cheetos and Pringles. They don’t care about the Miss Piggy float in the Macy’s Parade, they’re looking longingly at the tray of cold-cuts and cheese on the coffee table. They’re watching with hungry eyes at the mountains of food being carried to the dining room.

This isn’t an article to admonish those who give their dogs ‘people food,’ nor is it a cautionary warning about their health. Responsible dog owners are just that. Responsible. I myself have tried to keep my dog Musket from eating anything he shouldn’t have, but darn it, HE’S TOO FAST FOR ME!

Musket, as some readers know, is a retired Guide Dog. And you may know, from reading my book ‘Confessions of a Guide Dog’ that he has some peculiar quirks. Most…no, ALL of them have to do with food.

Musket, because he was a well-trained and disciplined Guide Dog, never ever stole food from a low table. He behaved. Yet he wasn’t too proud to beg. When my wife Jane and I sat down for dinner, Musket began ‘Watching the tennis match.’ Back and forth between Jane and me he watched every spoonful, every laden fork, every single time we chewed. For the most part we were able to ignore him, but it’s like ignoring a bullet fired at you. Sooner or later you’re going to notice it.

The one ironclad rule (he wrote it) is The five-nanosecond rule: If food dropped on the floor remains longer than the prescribed five nanoseconds it is automatically his and he may eat it.’

For those of you who don’t watch ‘Big Bang Theory’ a nanosecond is one-billionth of a second. So if I drop a piece of ham on the floor I have to move pretty fast. But here’s the catch: I’m blind.

Musket always waited the prescribed five nanoseconds, I’ll give him that. He’s not stupid. He wrote that rule because he knew I wouldn’t be able to prevent it.

So on Thanksgiving, when Jane was making dinner for our guests, such as her parents, she had a furry Hoover vacuum cleaner following her around like a panting shadow.

She knew about the rule but for some reason SHE didn’t worry about it. She even encouraged him! “Musket, come here, Mommy dropped a bit of stuffing!”

What’s a blind husband to do? So I just set the table (incorrectly of course) and pulled the wine corks. Then Jane’s family and guests arrived, warmly greeted by us and enthusiastically by Musket. He knew that the arrival of Nanny, Pop-pop and our friends meant one thing: he could beg around every seat at the dining table.

Once we were all seated among the platters of succulent roast turkey, steaming mashed potatoes, savory gravy, aromatic stuffing, crispy vegetables, warm biscuits and a dozen other gastronomic temptations, the serving began. You all know the drill, but add a hungry dog to the equation. I swear I always fed him before we sat down but for some reason he seemed to have forgotten he’d eaten.

From me to Jane, to Nanny to Pop-pop to our neighbor to the next guest and the next, he made the rounds. His circuit took about three minutes. By the time he was back at his starting position, we each had forgotten he’d just had a bit of turkey or a carrot slice. Note I said ‘a bit.’ However, multiply ‘a bit’ by five or six or eight people and pretty soon it wasn’t only the turkey that was stuffed.  The two people most guilty of this were Jane’s parents, who had NO willpower when it came to Musket. Musket just gave Nanny that big, soft, brown-eyed gaze of hungry longing and she melted faster than Blue Bonnet on the mashed potatoes. I’m surprised she didn’t put a plate on the floor with a full serving of everything.

Dad’s short-term memory was shaky so Musket got a helping every single time he went to Pop-pop. No wonder he loved them so much. They were putty in his paws.

I’ll admit it. I’m trying to sound stern, but really, I never minded his begging. It became part of the Thanksgiving tradition at Chez Carlson. You readers know what I mean. We all love our dogs and they love us. Thanksgiving isn’t just about football or pigging out on cold cuts. It’s so we can feel grateful for what we have. And for the last ten years, Jane and I have been blessed with the furry love of a wonderful dog.

It works for me because I don’t like football.

Reprinted from The Tale Wagging the Dog, San Diego Pets November 2012