Peacocks are proud of their tail feathers, mandrill monkeys flaunt their colorful rumps, and my dog, Trucker, treasures his feet.
It’s not a nervous, obsessive act, but Trucker loves to keep his feet clean. He’s also devised ways to use them that strike me profoundly, such as brushing his teeth with the rear paw pads and swabbing out his ears.
I’ve always loved studying pets and their behavior. Adopting Trucker when he was five brought me a new adventure, learning traits he acquired elsewhere and determining what he was asking me for and needing.
No doubt Trucker’s body is versatile, kind of like a pocket knife. For example, he unfolds his 60-pound long, tall frame from a resting position to reveal a tail which he can use as a fan and as a tool with which to poke me in the eye, slap my three cats across their faces, and knock over potted plants.
Aside from the tail, he has amazing feet. His white paws sport black nails and black toes that look like dark chocolate creams individually wrapped in white, furry, fancy papers. As he sleeps at home in one of five cushioned dog beds, I watch him pacify himself by gently licking his feet while his eyelids droop with sleep.
He picks up a back foot and licks it top to bottom, then inserts it between his cheek and gum to the back of his mouth, biting carefully as the rough paw pad brushes his molars. When this takes place, I can’t help but smile.
These same back feet he grooms before inserting into his ears to wiggle around like a cotton swab, then clean the toes all over again.
One evening as he slept with me in my bed and poked his paws into my face, I informed him that his feet smell like popcorn. Perhaps this is why he likes to lick them.
While Trucker keeps his feet clean by licking, he welcomes my assistance with trimming the white fur from between the toes with a mini-groom trimmer. Per his request, though, nails must only be filed with a rotary filing tool, which he submits to by lying on his side and sleeping as I shape his nails. Only once did I try to clip them while we were outside. One click of the nail clippers, and he sprang to his feet and ran like a gazelle to hide behind bushes. I vowed to never show him nail clippers again.
I pondered one day how many miles Trucker’s feet have tread over river banks, grass, gravel, mud, asphalt, cement, shingles (my dog likes to lie on my flat porch roof), blankets, and carpet.
These same feet have serve as bully stick holders, branch grippers, bed makers, paper plate and plastic bowl holders, hole diggers, kitty touchers, and people huggers. No wonder he takes pride in their upkeep.
I assist in that upkeep as he allows, wiping his paws when they are muddy by using two personalized towels (embroidered with his name) that hang by my back door. A plastic container filled with warm water serves as a foot dunking and swishing station in severe muddy cases. He drops to his back and relaxes his paws for bathing.
Recently he limped on his front right leg while making his way across our backyard. I rushed to his aid to find the empty shell of a buckeye nut perfectly snug around his right outer toe. I plucked the shell from his toe, and Trucker ran off with delight.
When he sleeps, Trucker likes to keep all four of his feet together, stacked in a paw club sandwich of sorts. Maybe he does this so he knows they are all accounted for.
In the morning when I wake, I curl up over the top of Trucker as he sleeps in a dog bed beside mine. I plant kisses on his cheek and the soft spot behind his ear while telling him, “I love you.” He places one of his front paws up over his head, hooking it behind the ear that I am kissing – as if he is saying, “Oh Mom, not more girly kisses.” I kiss the same spot more to tease him.
I have shared with friends that Trucker’s feet are universal tools. As one friend said, “He’s a smart boy. Think of what he could do if he had thumbs.”
Ah yes … imagine.
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About the author: Tracy Ahrens is a veteran journalist, author of Raising My Furry Children, artist, and mom to three rescued cats and one dog. Read more of her work attracyahrens.weebly.com and raisingmyfurrychildren.weebly.com.