(Thomas Froese Photo)

(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, March 20, 2021)

Today in this space we continue to explore the most pressing issues of our time, now with the difficult question that’s on everyone’s mind: should we let dogs teach in our universities? My own view is that if my dog, Grace, taught, say, my literature class, she’d do fine.

“Today,” she’d say, sitting in front of her class, crossing one furry leg over the other, “we’ll look at grace.” Then she’d take a selfie, show her students, and laugh before opening a literary reader with her favourite stories. “Actually, today we’ll look at the American writer Grace Paley,” my dog would continue. “Now, people, if you don’t mind, pay attention to the text.”

Grace, who’s now graduated from puppy school, maybe considers it while sitting and thinking great thoughts at our front window. There she often looks out past the gnarly willow, past the red fire hydrant (always a point of interest), past the neighbours and passersby, to the cemetery where Grace loves to run through the tombstones.

Lately she’s been watching the comings and goings of Jerry, the carpenter who’s building bookshelves to hold books for schooled dogs like Grace, or at least books by authors like Grace Paley. This, even as my dog is captivated by other things. As you know, pretty well anything that smells is a turn-on. Then there’s food.

In fact, Grace (the children call her Gracie) recently saddled up to our dining table to enjoy a plate of Chicken Tuscany with a side of Caesar salad. Nobody was there (it was intended for the children’s mother), to warn Grace that garlic, just like chocolate, can kill even educated dogs. So off we went (the boy joined me) to get Gracie’s stomach pumped.

At her window, Grace also watches boy dogs. But for you dogs thinking about, you-know, making family, be aware that Grace just had that special surgery. Now she’s moping around the house with one of those ridiculous lampshade-like protective cones around her neck so she doesn’t reach down to, you-know. But soon she’ll be out running and playing and sniffing bums, which, all things considered, isn’t the worst way for the world to resolve its differences.

Yes, Grace, the mini-Sheepadoodle, has friends. “How did Grace’s school go?” A woman at the park asked. “She’s graduated,” I said. The woman then told me about a guide dog in training who’d failed. “I’m glad,” she said. “That dog wasn’t meant to be a guide dog. We should let them be themselves.”

This is Grace. She’s just herself: a little bit country and a little bit rock-and-roll, playful to a fault, often laying with all fours up, smiling, happy for a belly rub from anyone with hands. She’s loved like many pets – even those who aren’t full scholars –  for her easy, gracious nature, so vital in pandemic days when we especially need affection and connection.

In fact, according to Statistics Canada, our nation’s dogs, about 8.2 million, are increasing. If any dogs care, that’s about the same number as cats. Globally, there are as many as 900 million dogs. Most roam free. In either case, alongside the U.S., National Puppy Day, March 23, is around the corner. So, sure, let’s celebrate the young, upcoming dogs of our time.

A couple of other things.

First, Grace’s brother, Ryker, is a reminder to never let expectations limit you. After Grace first appeared in this space, Ryker’s owner wrote me: “We’re glad your coin toss gave you Grace because we wanted the male.” Now Ryker, who’ll soon visit our home, is 70 pounds. That’s twice as large as Grace and their seven siblings. Good grief. On a prayer and coin toss.

Finally, talking about poison, tomorrow, Sunday, starts National Poison Prevention Week. So watch that garlic. But be mindful too of any poison you might need to have pumped from your own innards. Remember Nelson Mandela? He said that hating someone is like drinking poison, then waiting for it to kill your enemy.

Just saying. The world is filled with poison. But life itself is grace. And while any dog can go to school, listening in the school of life is a different matter. Which is also to say that there’s the dog, Grace, and there’s the way of grace. You can learn from both.