I was a habitual nail biter until a short while after my 21st birthday, and even today in my young 30’s I find myself gnawing at an occasional hangnail. This isn’t so odd actually; among the overstressed population of our tiny nervous planet I would imagine that there are countless professional nail biters of all shapes and sizes, and of all ethnic and social backgrounds. And why the hell not?_ All one needs to do is turn on America’s favorite pacifier- the idiot box- to see well over 100 reasons in 30 minutes why we should sit on the edges of out seats with out fingers in out ears awaiting in helpless anticipation the blast of an almost inevitable socio- self inflicted disaster of some insane variety. So in the greater scheme of things, when all is said and done, one person chewing his fingernails down to their cuticles is no amazing feat. Well prepare to be amazed. I actually had a Labrador retriever, when I was a teenager, who bit her nails. It was the funniest thing you could ever see. Hazel was her name, because of her color, and this dog was so peopleized that she could almost but not hold an ordinary human conversation. My mother would pay her in milk bones to help me with my homework, that’s how smart this dog was, well- you know… But- this amazing, wonderful, peopleized
Labrador was something of a pacifist. To illustrate this point I’ll relay the story of how my young 5 and 7 year old brothers would use her tongue as a pull toy, or in imitation of Hulk Hogan doing a high-fly something or other off the top rope, slam themselves full weight down off of the living room couch onto my poor unsuspecting dogs belly as she lay at my feet curled up and fast asleep, dreaming of chasing squirrels or rabbits. The dog would yipe once or twice in pain as she ran for shelter, nothing more. And this was a reoccurring event_ shared in by the minister’s son; especially during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle era that adultdom suffered through. But adults were not alone in their suffering, there were countless days on end where pairs of Leonardo’s or Donatello’s practicing their karate skills would turn on poor Hazel with kicks and punches of all sorts, or plastic or makeshift weapons of corresponding design. No wonder the poor dog bit her nails! She probably bit her nails for the same reason most of the world bites their nails today as we sit in mutual horror awaiting the throes of disaster in so many possible forms, only her plethora of disasters were high fly off the top rope kamikaze swan dives and gnarly roundhouse kicks almost too expertly executed for a 5 or 7 year old. Our demons are something more sinister in nature. Hazel was euthanized early in 1993. I think she was 8, maybe 9 years old at the time. It seems so long ago from today that it happened. She contracted heart worms and we didn’t discover it until it progressed into irreversible and untreatable stages; unable to save her we did what we could to make her as comfortable as possible until she had to leave. I have never had another dog since and have never met a dog as human as Hazel, it seems now she was more human than some people I’ve come across in my brief life thus far. Unfortunately humans have allot they can learn from dogs and if Hazel can see us , looking down from that great dog pound in the sky, I’m sure she’s proud of me that I’ve managed to quit biting my nails. But the fact remains that the world we live in is a world that makes allowances for the threat of nuclear, biological, chemical, and other criminal forms, and has risen to such an awareness to it that the finger nails of the human race may not hold out as chew toys for our nervous anxieties, we may have to start working on our toe nails if things keep up at the rate that they’re going!
When I picture Hazel looking down and seeing humans and canines (and even her mortal enemies the felines) busying themselves across the planet I wonder what advice she would bark down to her fellow nail biters whom she seems to so remarkably connect with. Perhaps the answer lies hidden somewhere beneath the surface of the milk bones she was so fond of. Certainly it doesn’t lie in the television she often seemed to watch but doubtfully understood. I suspect though that she would have allot to say, that is if we were smart enough to speak dog. What I wonder though is – is it as easy for dogs to behave humane, as it is for humans to behave like dogs?