The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Paul Gregutt
the Times 

The Cookie Chronicles


April 16, 2020

Chapter Three – Mr. B N'est Pas Une Boule!

Mr. B is the name we gave to Cookie's ball in a failed effort to keep her from going ballistic every time we said the word ball. But more importantly, we've come to discover that the name represents something much more significant than any one particular object. In fact it's a transferable title, like Your Majesty. It is only given to one ball at a time, but once that ball has been lost or destroyed, the next one is now Mr. B, and Cookie seems not to mind. It's a bit like the green jacket they hand over at the Masters tournament. You don't get to keep it once a successor has been found.

My thinking on this subject has evolved over many years, but it coalesced a year or so ago on a visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). There, much to my delight, I was able to see one of my favorite paintings by the surrealist master René Magritte – a painting titled The Treachery of Images. It depicts a simple tobacco pipe, set against a plain straw-colored background. The words "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (this is not a pipe) are written in a neat script across the bottom of the painting. And therein lies the power of the piece.

It looks like a pipe, but as the artist himself once said, it doesn't function as a pipe. It's simply a representation, not an actual pipe. The concept is disarmingly simple, yet created quite a few waves (and generated more than a few theses) delving into the relationship between a symbol and the reality behind it. And so, in a different but comparable way, Mr. B, who is an actual ball, functions as a symbol for much more.

Cookie was not with us at LACMA but she is never far from my mind. And while I was chewing on the pipe/not pipe concept embodied by the art, the question flashed through my mind that if Mr. B is not merely a ball, then what is he? And what I came to conclude is that he is in fact is a multi-purpose, multi-talented communications device.

Dogs have very little to do all day other than to watch their people and learn their ways. A big part of that is developing an understanding of a complex vocabulary that is a mix of human words, human-generated sounds, and myriad unconscious gestures. As dog owners we rarely know the full range of these non-verbal communications. We teach our dogs a few commands and basic rules (DON'T EAT THAT!) and call it good.

But dogs also have a language of their own, and it is just as important for us to study them and learn their language as it is for them to learn ours.

Mr. B is used in any number of ways to convey whatever is on Cookie's mind. If we give any sign of preparing to go outside, Mr. B turns up directly behind wherever we happen to be putting on our coat and shoes. If someone known to Cookie approaches the house, she will immediately grab the ball as part of the official welcome committee. If I've been particularly generous with snacks at lunch, she brings over Mr. B as a sort of thank you card. When it's time for her 4 o'clock brush, he is discreetly placed next to her dinner dish, where the brush is kept, along with the jar of treats that follow. And once dinner is over and it's time for the evening's activities, nothing can proceed properly until Cookie drops Mr. B in front of the kitchen drawer where he is gently tucked away until the next morning.

Above and beyond all that, Mr. B's most important role is as Cookie's security blanket. I've written briefly about Cookie's rough start in life, which included having a litter of puppies taken away from her before she was a year old. In a very real sense Mr. B is the puppy she never got to raise. He is almost always within her sight, a part of almost every moment of every day. Best friend, wing man, confidant-all of the above.

As much as Cookie has learned to understand our mysterious ways, we too have worked hard to interpret Mr. B's many functions and roles in her world. And she is never more joyful than when one of us says "Cookie-where's Mr. B? Go get him!" Because that means something really fun is about to happen.


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