The Topanga barking and howling show

Thumbnail image for al-martinez-sketch.jpgDogs have been man's companion for roughly 15,000 years, but that's OK. In the beginning when the animal got too old to carry out his usual duties of spotting game or helping to protect against predators they just ate him.

It was a ritual intended to make the owner a part of the dog by ingesting his soul, which supposedly endowed the eater with a dog's greater sense of smell and his willingness to attack any household enemy without hesitation. Take our dogs, for instance.

We currently have four of them living in our house in Topanga, reflecting a new occupancy shift about to occur. Our only permanent dog is Sophie, a rescue mutt who loves us dearly and whose long nose is continuously poking into where it should not be.

Then there are Kita, also a mutt, who is old and half blind and is always walking into a wall, and Buttons, a pedigree French poodle who never stops yapping. They belong to my son's family who have been living with us but are now seeking their own home in Oregon or Washington State where, it is said, god abides.

Lastly, if there is such a word, there is Dynamite, a small, floppy-eared cocker spaniel whose contributions to the household include yapping along with Buttons and pissing on the floor. "She's nervous," her owner, our granddaughter Nicole, explained, wiping up the mess. Nicole, who is four months pregnant, and husband Adam have moved into our house too and will take over the space abandoned by our son and his family when they head north.

Nicole taught Dynamite how to howl, thus adding an interesting falsetto to the yipping, yapping and screeching.It sounded like a rock band.

I am not sure how this is all going to work out. I am not always included in the planning because I get confused easily and nervous too, and my response to chaos is not dissimilar from that of Dynamite's, except that I rush off to the toilet and not to a corner of the dining room.

When I stopped to wonder one day which dog belonged where, the doorbell rang and the barking that followed by all four dogs was chaotic. They formed a half-circle around the visitor and appeared to be in a killer mode, growling, yapping, howling and shrieking. The visitor, one of those buttoned-down religious people who work the neighborhood to talk about god and hustle bibles, froze in terror while mumbling a prayer and then backed away slowly and was gone.

Kita walked into a wall before settling down again and Dynamite urinated on the floor, but that's OK. Kita is almost blind and Dynamite is nervous. They can't help it.

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