I’m going to retire from the “my dog’s smarter than your dog” competition. None of the dogs I’ve ever owned had any skills other than eating, sleeping, and loving me, and that was enough.

My friends are often trying to one-up each other in the competition.  They never brag about their incomes, their cars, or their expensive vacations. Instead, they are engaged in perpetual verbal combat over whose dog is the smartest.

We humans love our dogs so much that I read about one owner who donated 2.3 million dollars to Texas A &M University to attempt to clone his recently departed dog so that he could be with him, or at least a dog exactly like him, for eternity. Many of my friends would likely do the same if they could come up with that much cash.

My friend Janice has a dog named Cleveland. Technically, he is the dog of her grown sons, but they have married and moved out. I suspect that you know what happened. Cleveland is now Janice’s grand-dog. She adores him.

At the slightest provocation, Janice whips out of her purse a photo album, the cover of which she has hand-embroidered with the words, “Grandma’s Brag Book.” It expands like an accordion to reveal dozens of photos of Cleveland. Cleveland shaking hands, Cleveland being bathed in the bathtub, Cleveland dressed in a bright yellow rain slicker and matching hat and boots.

It’s a bit like being subjected to your neighbor’s 200 photos of his vacation to the National Toothpick Museum in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Maybe that’s just my jealousy talking. My dogs were not especially photogenic; just lovable.

Cleveland is indeed very smart. Janice has taught him to fetch the morning paper from the foot of their driveway. Then she taught him to open the refrigerator and bring her a cold beer. Now she is trying to teach him to drag the trash can to the curb on garbage pick-up day.

Janice swears that Cleveland not only understands everything she says but is desperately trying to communicate with her. I’ll bet he is. What he is trying to say is, “Get off my back, will you? What am I, the family butler?”

Janice says that Cleveland takes baths with her in her bathtub. Any day now, I expect she will tell me that while they are in there, Cleveland shampoos her hair, shaves her legs, and gives her a pedicure and a French manicure.

By now, Cleveland is starting to regret revealing his superior intellect. If he had just played dumb, he could be spending his days eating, sleeping, and licking himself, the way God intended.

Cleveland is very good at playing dead because he is starting to wish he was dead.

Instead, next, Janice likely will be teaching him to change the spark plugs in their car, rewire the house, and update the computer system.

When he becomes three years old (21 in dog years), she will force him to get a full-time job. In his old age, Cleveland will be expected to support the whole family with his Social Security check.

A few days ago, the unthinkable happened. Janice let Cleveland out to go to the bathroom (not literally a bathroom with a toilet, although that would not surprise me). If he did, he probably would be a toilet paper snob who would insist on only the top-quality brands. Have I mentioned that Cleveland is very smart?

I told her not to worry. Cleveland probably was off to see the world. He probably was already at the airport purchasing his tickets. I reassured her that he would likely send her postcards from various points of interest.

Yes, there would be Cleveland scaling the Eiffel Tower, Cleveland atop the Pyramids of Egypt, Cleveland dancing the can-can with a line-up of French poodles.

If Janice only knew how difficult it was for me to fake those photos. It was not as if I actually stole Cleveland. I am just borrowing him for a while. As soon as he finishes wallpapering my kitchen, regrouting the bathroom tiles, and canning my tomatoes, I plan to give him back, but not until after April 15. Cleveland will be preparing my tax return and he is much cheaper than my accountant.

I would have gotten away with it, too, if I hadn’t been wearing those sandals when I ran into Janice at the grocery store, where she was posting a “missing dog” poster on the bulletin board.

“Any luck?” I asked, feeling slightly guilty.

“No, not yet,” she answered. “I am going to call the newspaper and up the reward to…hey!” she said, looking at my feet and my daintily painted toenails peeking out of my sandals. “Isn’t that Cleveland’s special French Manicure? Nobody paints a toenail quite like Cleveland!”

I hope my tax accountant will take me back.



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