Our puppy has dissociative body disorder. Actually, that’s not as bad as his associative body odour, an ill wind that escapes from his backside and has the potency of an anaesthetic and a bio-chemical weapon rolled into one.
“Pffft.” Wilson perks up his ears, trying to locate the sound. His forehead folds into deep wrinkles as he ponders the likely source when slowly, the heavily laden air molecules arrive at his nose. His nostrils start to twitch and he turns to follow the quickly thickening scent trail to arrive – surprise – at his bum.
He looks at us in amazement, at least I assume he still does because by now, the soft “pffft” is causing an automatic reflex that sends Sam and me diving for cover. We jerk up our shirts to cover mouth and nose, and take the only the shallowest, most necessary breaths, until minutes later the vapours have dissipated enough to only knock you over if you’re unlucky enough to enter from the uncontaminated outside.
It’s a good thing that we don’t live anywhere where we could have a social life. It would have come to an end by now unless we laid in a stock of gas masks. Maybe it’s because Wilson’s hind end is so far removed from the front part of his body and brain that it’s a constant source of wonder and mystery to him.
“Look, he’s doing it again,” Sam says. I dive into the sanctuary provided by my shirt and my own smells, pale and vapid as they are. In comparison. “No, the scratching thing,” Sam clarifies. As my eyes emerge from my shirt collar, I am greeted by the sight of Wilson trying to catch up with his hindquarters, which seem to be pulling him backwards across the floor.
“Oh, man,” I comment under my breath as I watch him walking backwards, swinging his head from side to side. The first time he did this we thought he’d had a stroke or something. But no, he’s merely trying to scratch himself under the chin with one of his hind paws. “Other dogs sit down and then scratch their chin,” Sam points out to the puppy who gives him a polite look but still tries to catch up with his paw by walking backwards.
Finally, though obviously he’s no closer to his hind end than before, he figures that he’s reached it. Up goes one foot and gives a brief scratch on the chin. “I don’t know if he’s totally stupid or if he thinks too much,” I wonder. Are other dogs as aware of their hindquarters being somewhere behind them?
Dissociative body disorder is when your body parts and actions don’t seem to add up as being your own. Like the dog on YouTube who thinks his leg is trying to steal his bone. As if to illustrate this and point to a potentially worrisome future, Wilson lies down and begins to scratch the inside of his ear with his hind paw, grunting softly because it feels so good. When the paw withdraws, he sniffs it carefully and licks conscientiously, eyes almost closed with concentration. Suddenly, the paw seems to take on a life of its own.
It rises into the air, hovers for a second or two in front of his muzzle and then, wavering like a drunk, makes stabs at his mouth. Half open as always, it is soon filled not only by the paw but half the leg – this dog has no gag reflex until things are partly down his gullet. A strange dance begins, reminiscent of sword swallowers and tango dancers, head and leg swaying back and forth, fused in an odd position.
Just as I begin to gag from watching him, Wilson pulls his head back far enough to regurgitate his paw and leg. With mild surprise as if he had expected something else entirely to come up, he sniffs it all over until the paw rises again and inserts itself back into his mouth. Sam shakes his head. “Well, I guess we wanted a special dog.” So we did. I have to say that otherwise, he’s completely normal. It’s just this dissociative thing. And the associative one.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.