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Jane Lehman: I’m slowly and surely warming up to dogs

I have a confession to make. I don’t really like dogs. Is that un-American?

They smell, even when freshly bathed. They try to lick me. They jump on me. Large dogs have put their paws on my shoulders and licked my face and smeared my glasses. Ugh. They are high maintenance. They love anyone who feeds them. Give me cats any day.

This was not always the case. When I was a toddler on a small farm, we had Sport, a smallish indeterminate mixed breed. One evening while my parents were milking the cows, someone drove in to ask if that was their little girl walking down the road with a dog. Apparently I would follow Sport anywhere!

When Sport disappeared from my life, he was replaced by a series of dogs that I didn’t much care for.

Over the years, I met some dogs that I liked. Midnight lived across the street for awhile. As I became a friend of the owners, I became well-acquainted with him. He was at least partly black lab, very intelligent and respectful. I liked him because he didn’t try to make me like him. He greeted me by standing next to me, and when I froze in alarm, he went away.

Wally and Ebony were other black labs that treated me the same way. I thought those were the only dogs I would ever sort of like.

Then the grand-puppy came to visit. No dog has ever been inside any house or apartment where I have ever lived, so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go.

Wilson is an adorable miniature goldendoodle. Yes, he’s a puppy who will eat socks and chew on furniture and wreak all manner of puppy havoc if not supervised. Yes, he tries to jump on me when he sees me after a half-hour separation, because he is so excited that I am there.

Wilson’s parents work hard at teaching him manners, so he was a pretty good house guest. I came to appreciate his puppy enthusiasm. My son occasionally sends me pictures, which I carry on my cellphone and show to perfect strangers at the drop of a hat.

Recently some old friends came to stay with us for a few days, bringing their dog, Oreo. When I first met Oreo, he was an excitable puppy who tried to jump on me and lick me, so once again I had some trepidation.

But Oreo, now a mature 5-year-old, is unexpectedly calm and mellow. Maybe it’s the breed – a Shih Tzu-Maltese mix.

Sometimes he would lie next to me quietly while I read or chatted with his parents. He was happy when I scratched his head between his ears. He didn’t try to jump on me, although he greets people that way if they appear to want it.

Oreo has a mind of his own; when my husband took him outside, he insisted on leaving by the front door, not the patio door. He never tried to eat a shoe and rarely barks, although he does “talk” in gentle growl-like sounds. I told Oreo that he could come and stay again.

I have begun to notice dogs as I see them on the sidewalk. They always look happy. Some are really handsome. They seem intensely loyal to their people. They can be good company. Unlike cats, they can be trained.

I will never like being jumped on or licked by a dog, but I am learning to appreciate their doggy qualities.