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Phil Zimmer: The prancing dog who taught me to spell

I have a digital camera that is smarter than me, and a computer that seemingly knows the type of car I am considering. But to top that, I’ve had a dog that taught me to spell.

Yes, spell. It has come to that.

Tony came to us unexpectedly, a stray via a dog shelter. He was a young chow mix with a curly tail, a thick undercoat and a penchant for mischief. He was kind of like me in that latter regard.

He quickly charmed his way into our family with his high-stepping prance, engaging charm and quick mind. Even the old, arthritic elkhound took quickly to his new, energetic brother.

Like me, I’m told, Tony was not without his faults. Seemingly, he would wait until the most inopportune time possible to ask to go for a walk. Not ask, but insist. Dancing on his toes and nearly bouncing off the walls, he would not stop dancing until one of us capitulated and took him for a long walk no matter what the weather or the time of day.

He was persistent to a fault, and soon I began to announce that, “Tony, you are a pain in the a--!” The louder my pronouncement, the more the dog jumped in excitement, prompting me to use the term even more often just to see him unloose some of his energy before we went for a walk.

That had an unexpected downside. Tony soon associated the phrase “Pain in the a--!” with going for a walk. And to my chagrin, I apparently used the term more often than I realized in casual conversation. No matter how it was used, his bouncing simply would not stop until I capitulated and took him out.

Well, I soon began to spell out the phrase. But that lasted only a few days before the bright-eyed creature apparently learned to spell and again resumed his bounding about the house. I tried other words and other phrases, and began spelling those out, too, but he soon caught on to their meaning.

In near desperation I finally succumbed to my wife’s admonition; cut the cussing and take the critter for a walk. That worked and it taught me to clean up my language – at least a bit – for a few years.

I tell people that Tony was so bright that he even went to college with our daughter. He sniffed and checked out each potential suitor before letting him cross the threshold of her apartment. He kept careful watch over his charge in the gritty, urban environment and we all slept better for his deep growl and determined vigilance.

Tony was generally open and ingratiating with visitors, but I’m told a couple of male callers received head bumps to the tush when heading out the door. That was his way of telling the visitor that he need not be in a hurry to come around the apartment again.

Our daughter graduated and Tony has passed on to a better place as well. People laugh, but to this day I swear I can hear his thick tail thumping against the side door early on dark, rainy mornings awaiting my shouted epithet that will surely mean yet another tail-waving walk.

In reality, little is left behind except for a stray paw print in the paint on the back porch, the crack in Aunt Clara’s prize vase (don’t ask) and the broad smile that sweeps across my face every time I hear the phrase, “Pain in the a--!”