The following document was recently uncovered in the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, near what was known as Persia. Several respected archeological and biblical scholars have verified its authenticity. Little is known about the chronicler, Herman the Agagite.

“Dog,” said God.

At first I assume he is just making an anagram from his name, a brief exercise to be sure. I don’t answer.

“Dog,” he says again. “Are you listening, Herman?”

“Yes. I didn’t realize that was a question.” He uses my proper name when he is irritated.

“So,” says God, “What do you think of the dog?”

He always asks what I think about the stuff he’s made: trees, fruit, oceans, fish, mountains, deserts. Deserts bother him the most.

“Don’t even know why I made ‘em,” he has said more than once. “Not much good to anyone.”

I agree.

“The dogs are fine,” I tell him. “They’re different from all the other beasts you’ve come up with. They’re generally friendly, seem to connect well with most humans. Of course, there are some – ”

“I’m not happy with them.” He’s emphatic now.

That scares me. The last time God was unhappy with one of his beasts, he simply deleted them. The dinosaurs, for instance. Gone in the blink of an eye. His eye, anyway. Now maybe he’s thinking he should do the same with dogs.

“Why aren’t you happy?” I ask gently.

“I haven’t come up with a dog that is really wondrous. You know, a dog with universal appeal. And I do mean Universe.”

I pull out the Complete Dog Guide from my bag. He takes it and studies the pages.

“That’s a lot of dogs,” he says, obviously chagrinned at the many varieties. “I never worked that hard on cats.”

This is a delicate subject. God knows I try not to show any preference among the species. Even when the subject is hyenas or dung beetles, I remain positive and enthused. God returns to the subject of dogs frequently. He is obsessed by them.

“I want dogs to be exceptional. Perhaps even perfect.”

I write this in my journal.

God, watching, suggests I capitalize “dog.”

“Isn’t that taking it a little too far?” I offer. “After all, dog is just one of thousands of your creatures.”

“Ahhh,” he says and his eyes light up. “You have much to learn, Herman.”

I smile and nod vigorously, a reaction that unfailingly pleases him.

He continues. “I realize how many dogs I’ve created. The point is, I have yet to create the perfect dog.” I write this down. “Now. Let’s review all the dogs.”

I suggest alphabetically but he says “randomly.” We start with the Pekingese.

“Cute,” he says. “Next.”

I display a picture of the Affenpincher.

“Looks like a monkey-dog,” he says.

“Delete it?” I ask.

He doesn’t hesitate. “No. Some humans like ugly dogs. I just need to make sure it’s good for something. Like killing lesser creatures.”

“You create, then destroy?” I’m baffled.

“It’s my way.”

I silently agree. “Next up, the Kleinmeister hound,” and I put up a picture of this ungainly breed with the large overbite and two tails.

“Ridiculous. Big mistake,” he says. “I’ll get rid of it.”

I mark a large “X” through the name. The Kleinmeister is history. And so time and breeds pass. Finnish Lapphund, Borzoi, Soft-coated Wheaton Terrier, Akita – my personal favorite – and even the Chinese Crested dog, which I believe is one of the silliest looking creatures he ever created, surpassing by far the lemur and the baboon.

We work our way through the spaniels, a mélange of shapes and sizes. Several breeds later we come to the Dalmatian – in my humble opinion, one of his most beautiful works. A pure white dog, no markings, trim and statuesque, an intelligent face and kind eyes.

“Hmmm,” he says behind a frown.

I tense up. “This is a fine creation. One of the few large, completely white dogs. It’s almost … spiritual.” I’m grasping for straws.

“Hmmm.” An interminable wait. Then, “No. It’s too plain. It needs something.” He thinks a moment, then says, “Stripes. It needs stripes.”

“Stripes? On a dog? It’ll look like a short zebra.”

But he’s determined to add something. “You’re right. Forget the stripes. I’ll do spots. Black spots, maybe brown or violet spots. Something sporty. Write down ‘spots,’ Herm, and don’t forget to remind me.”

He gives me the “I’m serious” look. I write down ‘spots’ and underline it. And that is that.
Except for The Perfect Dog. Whatever that may be.
“We have almost four hundred breeds now,” I say. “Enough’s enough, don’t you think?”

“One more. I have an idea.”

I sense trouble.

“We’ll make a list of all the attributes to be found in The Perfect Dog.”

I’ve never known him to take a systematic approach. I pull out a large pad of writing parchment.

“Okay, Herm, I’ll talk, you write. First, ‘beautiful to behold.’”

I write.

“Add this. ‘Large enough for its beauty to be admired from a distance.’”

“Big,” I write, then make a note. “At least fifty pounds.”
Next, “intelligent. Not some dummy like a turkey.” As an aside, he tells me to make a note to remind him to “add a brain to the turkey.”

I ignore it. We need to stay focused. In rapid succession, he adds the following: Loyal. Friendly. Affectionate. Ability to talk. Long tail for wagging. Self-control.

He stops, looks at the list. “Scratch the talking thing. Too creepy.”

For a second there I thought he was onto something. Why should parrots be the only verbal creatures? Non-human, that is. Though from what I’ve seen so far, many humans should have their power of speech rescinded.

“Maybe talking is not a bad idea,” I say.

“Trust me, it is. Write down ‘eyes that talk.’ That’s even better.”

I’m not sure what he means, but I do as he wishes.
The list continues to grow. Gentle. Soft to the touch. Gets along with all humans.

“No, more emphatic. Loves all humans.”
God gets a look on his infinite face that I’ve never seen before, not even when he came up with sunsets. A look of pride and serenity.
“Herm, I think we have something here.”

The euphoria of innovation is contagious. I don’t know what the creature will look like, but I applaud the direction he’s taking.

“A couple more things,” he says. “First, a certain look. I can’t explain it. But a look in this dog’s eyes and face.”

“A look,” I write. I add a question mark.
God pauses. I can feel the creative forces at work, great concepts being mulled in his eternal mind. An overpowering suggestion of lightning and thunder churn around us. Truthfully I am afraid. Finally a blinding light beams forth from his countenance – I hesitate using that word since it sounds so parochial – and he makes his pronouncement.

“The eyes, Herman. Let’s go back to the eyes thing. The eyes are soft, yet penetrating. This will be a dog that can see into the very soul of the human. No other dog will embody that quality.”

I write down “the eyes.” Yes, I realize he has come up with it. I am thrilled and briefly dance around. What a stroke of genius. I ask him, “How many eyes?”

“Two, you idiot.”

“Just kidding.”

“The eyes, with the eyebrows, the eye lashes – they all work together to impart a magnificent sense of understanding to this special dog.” He stops his rhapsodizing and looks into the distance, a look I saw when he brought forth the firmament and stars. Finally he says, “This might just go beyond being the perfect dog. This may be the greatest living creature. Of all my creatures.”

When he says “Of all,” he lifts an arm upward and a lightning bolt splits the skies asunder, followed by a deafening crack of thunder. It is a cheap trick he uses occasionally.

I dutifully applaud and exclaim, “Huzzah.”

“I have an idea,” he says.

I hold my breath. What now?

“See what you think of this.”

Now I am worried. I can tell he’s come up with a revolutionary notion and seeks my agreement, not my opinion. Still, I feel flattered.

“This dog of dogs,” he begins, “Suppose it were to have a life span of two- or three-score years?”

His suggestion jolts me. I lay the parchment down and consider the implications. A dog that lives even two-score years is a concept difficult to comprehend. Elephants, turtles, parrots – no problem. Maybe I’m just so used to thinking of dogs’ lives as less than one score. He’s talking two or three times that.

“I don’t know what to think,” I say.

“It would ease the pain.”
“What pain?”

“The pain of separation, of loss,” he says. “The humans would enjoy their companionship much longer. Right now the ratio is seven to one. This would be two to one, or even less. Think of it, Herm. A longer time in which to enjoy and love this magnificent creature.”

He waits. An uncertainty develops in my mind. I turn it over and inspect it for credibility before speaking it. “Consider this,” I suggest. “The more time the human has with this incredible dog, the greater the pain of loss shall be. In fact, it may be unendurable.”

“Yes, but…” He abruptly stops. Doubts cross his visage.

I decide to add one more thought to dissuade him. “Beauty frequently demands brevity. Its transitory nature is part of its allure. Consider your sunsets. How beautiful would they seem if they lasted several days, even several hours? Their beauty would remain, but the appreciation, the wonder, would quickly be taken for granted.”

A sadness fills his voice “Suppose the dog were to live longer than the human….”

“Think of the pain the human would feel at eventually leaving the dog behind.”

“Yes. Of course.” He closes his eyes briefly, then resumes his thoughts. “You’re right. There seems to be no painless way out of this.” He looks around, as though a solution may lie elsewhere.

“Pain is a necessary ingredient of life,” I offer.

“Yes.” A long silence, then, “I’ll keep it under a score.” He says this with a heaviness to his voice that stirs me, pulls feelings up into my throat until I can barely breathe. I look away. He has done the right thing. I think.

Then he gives me his final thought on the creation. “Petting.”

“Excuse me?”

“This dog likes to be petted.”

“They all like to be petted. Even cats.” I hide my disdain.

“Not like this one. This dog will crave petting, go out of its way to be petted.”

I’m unclear as to his reasoning for this. Petting is so generic. But when he explains, I realize just how provincial is the scope of my imagination.

“Herm, you haven’t come to know humans well. They have so many strengths, yet so many weaknesses. Only time will tell if they were worth the trouble. I wish I could be sure…” His voice fades. A long silence lingers.

I’m afraid he will drift into this recurring concern. “You were talking about petting.”

“Yes. Right.” He’s back. “One of their basic needs is to be loved, to be needed and appreciated. It’s what makes their lives worthwhile. A dog that communicates an absolute appreciation for being petted helps humans attain a sense of self-worth.”

“I see,” I say, and I do.

He smiles beneficently, pauses, then delivers the thought that is an epiphany. “This dog will teach humans how to live their lives. It will be a symbol of pure love.” Silence. Calm.
Then, in a tranquil voice, he says, “A golden symbol.”

I write down his words. Then I add what I believe to be a nice touch. “And He saw the Dog was indeed great and wondrous and measured up in every respect. And He was pleased and named the Dog the Golden Retriever.”

God studies my closing words, then says, “Maybe I should call it the Golden Receiver. Or Believer.”

“You have achieved perfection with Retriever,” I say, quickly roll up the parchment, and humbly take my leave.

tagged in Gerry Mandel