~~ Originally printed in The Chapel Hill (NC) Weekly, March 2012 ~~

So you’ve met my son, Caleb (12,) and my daughters, Bailey (17) and Blake (14.)

There’s orange cat, Lillet, and her calico daughter, Olive.

And there is little white dog. Cooper is a bichon frisé, which is French for “curly haired lap dog.” He is a faithful companion of all who are willing to submit themselves to rubbing his pink belly. He is a ferocious guardian of all manner of fluffy cushions.

The other day, it was just the animals and me for a few hours. On a break between NCSU and UNC hoops, I decided to take Cooper for a walk in Bolin Forest, down by the creek. Lillet followed happily along, rolling playfully in the dirt and sharpening her claws on fallen limbs. Cooper was a trouper, but from time to time he would look at me as if to say, “these tiny oak twigs are poking between my toes in a most uncomfortable way.”

It was a glorious day. Squirrels were scampering everywhere, creating a percussion of fallen leaves that made me turn my head constantly to see what they were doing. At some point, I realized that Cooper took no notice of the squirrels. I watched him during the rest of our excursion, and he showed zero reaction any time one went crashing through the forest flora. My dog was completely lacking in the natural canine instinct to give chase to bushy-tailed vermin.

I was mildly concerned. OK, not really concerned so much as interested in an ethological way. But then kids came home and basketball resumed and my brain filled once again with who needed to be where at what time, how everyone’s brackets looked in the family pool, and, “What’s for dinner?”

How about linguine with clam sauce? Mais, oui! With a delicious fresh-baked baguette from the local co-op? Bien sur!

As soon as I dumped the clams out of their container, I had cats at my feet, winding between my legs and jumping up to nip my elbows. And the moment my serrated knife rasped against the crusty French loaf, Cooper was off the couch and under the cutting board in a flash, awaiting the shower of crumbs that always comes.

Vive l’instinct français!

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