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Susan Orlean

Nice Doggy

The other day, my Welsh springer spaniel, Cooper, gave me a manicure. He doesn't give the world's best manicure -- for that you'd have to go to that Korean joint, Nuclear Nails, or whatever it's called, on Broadway -- but he really tries. He can tell whether I'm in the mood to have my cuticles cut or just pushed back, and it was actually his idea to wear a little white uniform -- he can just sense that it makes me more comfortable to have a "professional" atmosphere whenever I'm getting personal services. And you know how every time you get a manicure you immediately remember something you need in your handbag? And how if you put your hand in your bag to get it you wreck your nails? Cooper knows how frustrating that is to me, so as soon as he's done with my top coat he goes over to my handbag, empties the contents, and separates everything into little piles so that I can get whatever I need without making a dent in my polish.

Look, I know he's not perfect. He ate an entire pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving while I was at a performance of "Phantom." He engages in retributive vomiting when he's left alone for more than four hours. He can, at times, smell. But in terms of totally grokking my emotions, he is off the charts. Whenever I break up with someone, Cooper is there with the complete hey-girlfriend treatment: the bottle of California champagne, the fatty snacks, the comfy sweatclothes that I hadn't dared wear while courting Mr. Wrong. He doesn't dole out all the tired lines like "You're too good for him anyway" and "You are by far the best-looking and thinnest of all of our friends"; he just gives me that look, nudges the bowl of Doritos in my direction, and by his silence implies that I don't need to do anything but have myself a big old cry.

Monkeys? Sure, they're super-cute, especially when you dress them in those frilly white bonnets and little corduroy shorts. It's nice that they can acquire a complex vocabulary of gestural signs and classify sets of objects with respect to their ordinal relationship. The opposable thumb is a big whoop. But that's the thing: they have the morphology but not the motivation. Do you remember Mr. Thumb ever zipping your dress without being begged?

Recently, I got downsized at work, and then I had to listen to my so-called friends give me their "rational" assessments of the situation -- the crap about my failure to meet quarterly departmental goals, my responsibility for the mold-spore contamination in the office refrigerator, the unfortunate incident with the color copier. I guess they thought that once I saw my role in getting canned I could be more philosophical. Note to "friends": Yeah, like, I'm sure. Cooper, on the other hand, just empathized, and then, when I went in to clean out my desk, he marched himself straight into the boss's office and did what I would have done if I weren't a lady. Of course, I'm sorry about the Klez virus on the firm's server, but you have to admit it's pretty impressive for a dog to know how to write code. Anyway, it was a catharsis for both of us, even if the judge didn't see it that way.

Cooper's empathy skills are so acute that I've decided to let him screen not only potential suitors but friends and family members, too -- my very own Office of Homeland Security. He's really strict. In fact, it's just the two of us now. I'm pretty happy, mostly, but I can tell that Cooper senses that I'm a little lonely. I think if I really want to he'll let me get another dog.

 
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