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Schrödinger's Dog

I'm a "difficult dog," according to my puppy school professor, who's an expert at classifying dogs. Calling me difficult is a short way of saying that I'm not afraid to bark my mind, sometimes I know better, and I pick and choose when to be leader or sidekick.

Luckily, Mom's a "difficult dog" too, and can tell the difference between rules made for us and rules made for fools.

You need to follow some rules no matter what. Mom insists that we're always polite, and never, ever scare anyone on purpose. That's easy for a tiny, unimpressive human whose thoughts generally stay inside her head to say, but my head is large and attention-grabbing like an elegant anvil. The mind inside makes such intense feelings that come on so suddenly that even the hulkiest anvil can't hold them in. Every thought I've ever had bursts out of my mouth, tail, and hackles in a rush to announce itself to the world.

Not all humans understand barking, so if someone hears me bellowing a friendly hello like a fire and grimstone preacher, and sees my supple muscles charging toward them like a bowling ball, then they might become dangerous and attack me. Dog-dangerous humans are like that scene in Jurassic Bark, they can't see you if you don't make any excited movements.

So Mom and I practice being peaceful and polite every day. For safety.

Not all rules are like respect and politeness. Some rules have no good reason for being, and are always changing just to stay relevant. You would have to memorize every single one of those rules to even know they exist.

If a dog sneaks into the park when no one is there to be scared of him, and his assistant picks up his poop and distracts him from the scent of baby nesting owls, is he still an outlaw? Why should so many rules apply to dogs, and no rules apply to his coyote neighbors?

According to Mom, some rules are "pre-paw-sterous." Respect and common sense are no use when trying to understand prepawsterosity. Since they don't follow law-gic, they have to explain themselves if they expect anyone to follow them. Sort of like a joke isn't really a joke if you have to explain it, a rule is both a rule and a not-rule until someone sees you breaking it.

Mom calls it Schrödinger's Law. Schrödinger's Law follows the no harm/no fowl principle: as long as you use a short leash, don't wake the owl chicks, and leave no clues, then no harm was done to fowl. That's called "responsibility."

For example, we live in excellent hiking country, but it’s all taken up by human preserve land.

Humans are skittish, fragile creatures, especially when they're first released from captivity. The preserves are like a protected habitat they can play in the sunshine like nature intended without fearing all the dangers that come with wilder-ness. Even man's best friend can frighten a human who's spent his whole life in captivity, so dogs are supposed to keep out of preserve land.

But if I run in a preserve before the humans are active, then I’m Schrödinger’s Dog.

Behind my Stuck House is a road for not-cars called My Trail. My Trail follows the Bay for miles before it turns into a human preserve filled with a large colony of busy-ness buildings and a golf course. The human preserve ends on its far side at another one of my favorite stomping grounds: the Wetlands that Smell like a Fart.

Mom and I patrol My Trail and The Fart so often that they feel as much like home as the Stuck House. I know every bush, tree, and flattened McDonald's cup so well that I can find my way with my eyes closed (which is a good thing, since most mornings we run in the dark). So I appointed myself Mayor and assigned myself the job of greeting my constituents and barking at rule-breakers during my morning patrols.

Every time I catch someone disturbing the peace by taking an unauthorized walking break, rollerblading, limping, or being a good dog, I add another thing to my list of rules to enforce. Keeping so many rules straight is more than one elegant anvil can hold, so I just bark at everyone and let their reaction decide if it's a friendly bark or a warning.

To make things even more complicated, other trail users also think they're mayor. They make up their own dumb rules, like "dogs should be seen and not heard," or "everyone should stay on their side of the line," or "false mayors have right of way." Some mornings I wanted to fight about these imposcar rules, but Mom said that false mayors aren't safe for beefcake dogs like me.

"Don't get involved," Mom reminds me with a yank on the leash every time a false mayor tries to enforce a prepawsterous rule. "Show 'em how you run."

Then we turn the other cheek and leave them to jealously watch our "other cheeks" waggle away down the trail.

Usually Mom and I turn around at the preserve boundary, but this was a special occasion. With no bosses in the office to see me, the rule against busy-ness dogs would be lifted, and the nine-mile run to the office would be the perfect opportunity for me to burn off the extra zoomies before I got there.

The trouble was that the office was on the far side of the Wetlands that Smell Like a Fart, which meant that we would have to cross the human preserve to get there. Mom timed it so that we would arrive right at sunrise, so that by the time anyone saw us, we would already be on our way out.

We had almost put the offices behind us, and only the golf course remained between us and safety when a truck caught up to us. Mom stepped into the weeds beside the trail and waved me to follow.

But even when we weren't on the trail anymore, the truck continued to match our pace. Since this wasn't part of my jurisdiction, I let the truck's walking break violation slide. When Mom stopped to let it pass, I sat patiently by her side yielding right of way.

The truck stopped obediently as well.

Mom waved a cheerful hello, which she hoped would turn into a friendly goodbye as soon as the men inside the truck saw it.

"Hold still, Mom!" I thought-whispered. "Your hand! They might see you."

"Move along..." hissed the thought escaping through Mom's teeth.

But it was already too late. The nearest window retracted like an eyelid and the head behind it dilated as it leaned out for a better look.

"You know you can't have dogs on this part of the trail," the head said.

"You can't have trucks here either!" I barked.

"'re gonna have to go back," the head continued.

"I can't go back," Mom said. "My car is this way."

That was a lie.

We were running because we weren't using the car at all, but as long as no one saw us not get into a car, it still might be true.

It would take too much to explain how you can get from place to place without a car, and a moment when you might have to lie is no time to tell an unbelievable truth.

"Dogs are allowed in the Baylands a mile ahead, right?" Mom said, pointing her finger in the direction where the fart smell was coming from. "And I'd have to run through Google land for a mile that way before I got to the dog-friendly trail, right?" She reached her arm back toward the Stuck House.

"You'll have to go back along the road," the head said.

"But the road is a mile that way." Her pointer shot straight through his forehead, past the eighth hole, through the tent where famous people sing, past the pastures that became car kennels while they're singing, and through several mall-sized office buildings before landing on the next road that went work-ward.

Dogs don't do math, but I know there's no escaping Mom's law-gic. The head retracted inside the truck for a better view of his counting fingers while he tried to figure out Mom's math problem.

Mom interrupted his calculation. "How about I run this mile as fast as I can, don't let him stop even to sniff, and we never come back here again?"

"Okay," the Outlaw Mayor said. "But don't let the rangers catch you. The fine for bringing a dog to the nesting habitat is twenty-five thousand dollars."

"That's absurd!" Mom said as she watched the truck take its five-second head start.

"Oh no!" I barked. "Now that we've been ub-served, are they going to put us to death like they did to Schrödinger's cat?"

"Not observed, absurd," Mom explained. "It means it's a rule that doesn't make any sense. You can't dig up a nesting habitat if you're on leash. And anyway, they plow this dirt under every year before concert season. How can you charge enough money to buy a house in North Dakota or Mississippi for a silly infraction like that?"

"Oh phew, I thought that you could be put to death for breaking Schrödinger's Law and Mississippeeing on an owl habitat. But no harm, no owl."

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