Little is required of the bouvier des Flandres named Opie. His job is to be a faithful companion at home, and not embarrass us too much when we go into town. He does a pretty good job of the former.
Opie is generally a reserved animal — not the bravest buckaroo, Beth likes to say — who will assess a new situation thoroughly before he offers an opinion or engages in a course of action.
For this reason, bouviers are popular as police dogs. They generally don't rip people's heads off until they have thoroughly absorbed the situation.
Opie is like this. If he is confused about something, he will take a seat and watch until all sides have made their case. Of course, on this point, one could bicker about the amount of lag time that is often involved.
When he was a puppy, a UPS truck rattled up the drive, dropped off a package and left. Shortly thereafter, we noticed a distinct absence of dog. We assumed he chased the truck back down the lane, and we spent considerable time searching for him — until we found him on the back porch hiding behind the grill.
No lie, it's taken the animal three years to figure out that it's OK to chase squirrels which, now that the matter is settled in his mind, he does with great enthusiasm. I like to think he's not a sissy, just careful.
None of the above is an issue at home. It only comes into play when we take him somewhere, which we seldom do, because being out in public with Opie is only slightly less embarrassing than being seen with Brad Womack.
As soon as we get into the car, he (Opie, not Brad Womack) begins to howl in a most unnatural way, much like a feline caterwauling, but much lower in tone and louder in volume. It is punctuated by sharp jabs of a bark and yip, then back to the chorus. There's no real way to describe it, except that it is not a sound of this world and almost always makes children cry.
We didn't even realize the extent of it, until one of the doggie beauticians at Dogs R US let it slip that they thought it great fun to call up people they knew were not home and leave Opie's "message" on their answering machines.
Apparently, he serenades his furdressers the whole time he's being bathed, which is kind of like getting a call from the principal telling you that it was your son who wrote "Push-Up Bras Rule" in herbicide on the school athletic field.
This week we took both dogs to the vet; it was hard to tell who was more ashamed, me or the bulldog Hannah, who had to share a waiting room with Opie. I'd even started to think that it might all be an act, but then when they came to take Opie away for his heartworm test, he dived behind Beth like a 19th century street urchin clinging to his mama's skirt.
The other unfortunate truth is that they say that a dog will begin to take on the personality of its owner.
I've always regarded that as an old wives' tale, but just to be sure, I "put out a feeler" with Beth by recounting that I never howl or complain about anything, and I certainly don't run in the other direction when other people come around.
The immediate affirmation I was expecting on these two points seemed to be awfully slow in coming. In its place was a rather awkward silence, and one of those nod/shakes of the head, of which the meaning is unclear.
But at least no one has ever taped me for their answering machine. That I know of.
Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tune in to the Rowland Rant on herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.