Brothers

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

They've been snarling at each other for nine years. Trash talkin'. Woofin'.

Sibling rivalry. Brotherly love - if ever there was a sweet-sour relationship, that's it.

It's not people I'm talking about. It's Dacques and Chubby, the French Brittany littermates. Dacques was the first born of Pepper's puppies, and Chubby came along later in the evening.

Dacques is the jock of the litter, a chesty French Brittany with the gee whizzy enthusiasm of a high school fullback. My wife claims he has a set of weights stashed in the doghouse and he works out at night, a dozen reps of curls and presses, a few lifts, a half-hundred snarls at Chubby.

Dacques is like picking up a sack of concrete that has gotten wet and set. He is a fur-covered boulder.

Chubby is stocky and sweet-tempered. His fur is soft and curly (any woman would kill for his natural curl). Dacques runs like a rocking horse, tight-muscled and jointed; Chubby is more conventional, slower and more methodical.

They pay no attention to each other as they hunt, except they cross trails. If you plotted their route on graph paper, it would have a geometrical symmetry.

I don't know if they communicate when they're hunting. There's no evidence. Perhaps it is an unspoken communication of the blood, a telepathic bond steeped in their very marrow. They don't need to talk. They just know.

But all the cooperative links snap when they're home in the kennel.

Then they growl at each other, begin to posture and threaten. They snarl, lift ruff fur and semaphore white-of-eye messages. Not all the time, but when there is something at stake, like food or me. Of the two, I am the best prize.

Dogfood is good, but Daddy is better. Chubby usually starts it; he is the more emotionally fragile, ever afraid someone will take me away from him.

The food always is available - there are three self-feeders in the dog pen, so they each could have one, with one left over, but whichever one starts eating first spends as much time growling at his brother as he does eating. They stick their heads in the small opening and the barrel of the feeder serves as a sound chamber and the rumble is like distant thunder.

They'll stand shoulder-to-shoulder, heads lowered, mouthing the most awful canine threats. Neither wants to back down. Matter of pride. Finally the tension slackens and they forget the hoorah and wind up sleeping with each other. It never quite comes to physical combat. They're like diplomats rattling sabers at a public forum, all bombast and posture.

Any United Nations delegate would recognize them instantly.

In a way it's nice to be the object of their affection. Everyone wants to be wanted. But it's no fun standing in the middle of a duel, even if it's a duel over me. I try to explain that they are co-equal in my affections; that I do not favor one over the other - but they're like brothers anywhere: "Dad always liked you better than he liked me!"

When we sleep together, which happens on the road, Chubby and Dacques vie for a spot next to me. Chubby is convinced he is my face dog, destined to lie close to my cheek where I can feel his soft night breath on my ear and the curl of his neck on my cheek.

Dacques would like to be a face dog, but has resigned himself to being a lower body dog. He presses close to my leg (it's like lying next to a statue fallen over on its side).

I will be scorned by those who consign their dogs to a cold kennel, usually with another stinking dog in wet straw, but that's me. I've spent many a night in a recreational vehicle with a radio softly playing vintage Mozart and a couple of brothers drowsing in the warmth.

I read a good book for a while and let the music and the warmth loosen the tight muscles of six hours in the boonies, and then the boys and I head for bed. Say what you will, it's comforting to have a warm body next to you in the small hours.

Sibling rivalry is a ferocious thing. My two oldest sons, J.B. and Eddie have had some horrific fights. Eddie once hit J.B. in the nose, which started to bleed copiously. I tried to stay out of the way. Sibling rivalry is nothing to get in the middle of. Remember Cain and Abel?

But Eddie was best man at J.B.'s wedding a few years later. Underneath the jealous anger is a love that transcends the vengeful peaks and valleys. Perhaps Dacques and Chubby have an emotion for each other that they don't or can't recognize, like J.B. and Eddie.

A friend has explored the difference between people, who are linear in their thinking, and dogs, who are episodic. People think of time as an evenly-flowing river; dogs as a series of pools.

A human knows when hunting season ends and feels the weight of the time between seasons. But a dog knows only that it is hunting season, then there is time (a day, a week, a month, who knows - a dog doesn't) when there is no hunting, then it is hunting season again. A dog does not know of approaching age or death. It knows today and maybe a little bit of yesterday, but nothing of tomorrow.

Dacques and Chubby know "This food is mine, sucker, so keep your chops out of it!" When the skirmish is over the insult is forgotten, and it's time to sleep and dream of rabbits chased and quail pointed. There is a simplicity in this lifestyle which precludes worry over illness and death and where the next meal is coming from. I envy this simple outlook.

We live six or seven times as long as a dog, but we pay for it with awareness. We span the time between the flivver and the Impala, the Jenny and the jet, where a dog may live only the life of the family car.

Most people wouldn't trade the ability to reason in depth and even to worry or fear the unknown for a dog's simple frame of reference. But there are plenty of times in the still of the night when ghosts press close that being Chubby or Dacques seems pretty attractive. They're the ones twitching with joyously fevered dreams while I lie awake and think of demons.

We moved to the country just over 2 years ago and since they took up fulltime residence, Chubby has caught and eaten a squirrel, they both caught and killed a young raccoon and a young skunk and Chubby discovered and shared with Dacques a brood of young turkeys. Each caught and retrieved one to my son, Andy, who could only shake his head. They were wonderfully pleased that they had found and brought home these big game birds without our help.

That the birds were out of season and too young were details not material to a dog's episodic life. No point in ol' Linear Me explaining that if they had let those turkeys grow up they might have been trophy gobblers responding to my call.

Dacques and Chubby are hunting animals...as I am. I wouldn't chase down and eat a raw squirrel, but I shoot them out of the trees and make Biglersville stew of them. I wouldn't shoot a baby turkey, but I long for the moment when the little guy develops a beard and a deep yodel and comes to my call.

There's no basic difference between the dogs drowsing in the kennel and me. We live to hunt and we love to eat what we kill.

And there really isn't much difference in brothers, be they Brittanies or Vances. When all the petty differences are solved, it's time to throw your arm/paw around the other guy's shoulders and face the world.

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