IN THEIR DREAMS

Do pets have dreams? As your dog twitches his legs while he sleeps, is he chasing a rabbit, a cat or a station wagon? Is he whining and whimpering as he relives a fearful encounter with the Rottweiler down the road or recalling his shame when you made him wear those antlers with the jingle bells last Christmas?

To settle this matter once and for all, I’ve conducted some highly questionable and unscientific research among animals I know. Turns out that while they’re snoring and blinking there by your feet, they’re really indulging in a rich and varied fantasy life that would make Hugh Hefner blush. My subjects included:

Duke, the Doberman, who has been to every trainer in town including the animal behavior therapist who makes house calls as his owner tries to cure him of his insatiable urge to chew. It’s sordid and it’s shameful, but when the big guy works his jaws as he slumbers, he isn’t taste-testing dog cookies or reminiscing over rawhide. In Duke’s favorite fantasy, he’s alone in the house and there before him on the Oriental heirloom carpet are the master’s moccasins. He devours them slowly, like salt-water taffy, then tackles the rug, methodically puncturing his way across it until it resembles Alpine Lace Swiss cheese.

His passion reaches its peak as he jumps to the sofa, furiously shredding it into colorful confetti, but to his chagrin, he always awakens in mid-chomp, drooling and panting, sweating from every footpad. If only he could talk, he’d ask that therapist the meaning of this nightly trip to both heaven and hell.

In his dreams, Roland, the French Bulldog, sees visions of a fairy dogmother who looks a lot like Lassie. She offers him a tantalizing bite of pepperoni jerky and with one bite, the runty fellow leaves behind a world where people call him “short stuff” and snicker at his attempts to be the Alpha dog as he is instantly transformed into a Great Dane.

Then there’s Murphy, the Golden Retriever, who hasn’t been the same since he watched Woodstock II on Pay TV and caught a glimpse of those mosh pits. Now, when he’s stretched out in slumber, whining ecstatically as his big paws gallop through the air, he’s ankle-deep in that glorious muck, a sly grin on his golden kisser. (In the long version of the dream, Murphy goes directly from upstate New York to the spacious home of his owner’s mother-in-law, the rambling ranch carpeted in deep-pile shag throughout. In Winter White, of course.)

Chi Chi, the Chihuahua, known to those of us who cut his nails as “Jaws,” belongs to an elderly owner who excuses his every transgression with two words: “He’s nervous.” He nods off to his nighttime nirvana where he’s onstage at Rockefeller Center as the Rockettes get set to perform their heart-stopping high kicks. His needle-like teeth are poised at the ready and his timing is perfect as those delicious shapely ankles hit the stage. But the little ankle-nipper wakes up without feeling rested. He’s spent.

Dolly the Shepherd-Collie dreams of dumpsters overflowing, those delectable outdoor smorgasbords, forever full, forever fragrant. Their inviting aromas waft her way as she dozes in her summer dugout underneath the picnic table, wondering what pungent surprises await her in that fantasy world where pickup days are always postponed and nobody ever heard of trash compactors.

Even Benny the Beagle dreams big. He sees himself reclining on a chaise lounge, a copy of Better Trees and Hydrants in his lap. He’s at a Doggie Club Med where the waiters are dressed like mailmen and the punch is served from toilet bowls. He hears the happy yipping of his young offspring — he’s somehow managed to avoid being neutered and he’s wandered far and wide, as befitting a Beagle, to spawn with his hairy harem. His progeny are playing a lively game of Pin the Tail on the Dog Officer and he’s thinking that if that hot-looking Poodle walks by one more time shaking her pom-poms, he might slap the make on her. (Unlike us humans, dogs don’t have to worry about sexual harassment laws.)

A cat can be a dreamer too. Take my Spike, aka The Evil One, Scourge of the Neighborhood, Tabby Terrorist and Predator of Small Children. He snoozes in his window perch, eyes half-closed like a Latin lover, envisioning a perfect world where he rules with an iron paw and all felines must pay him tribute: a fresh field mouse, a squiggly snake, a quivering hunk of raw liver, perhaps. His only dreamland dilemma is which of his heroes he will be tonight — Ivan the Terrible, Dracula, or the Marquis de Sade.

And what about dog groomers like myself? Do I nod off to a fantasy where I’m Cinderella all gussied up to go to the ball in a pumpkin coach drawn by a team of Bernese Mountain Dogs? Am I dog paddling with the Portuguese Water Dogs in a warm turquoise sea? Or front-row at the ballet, watching pirouetting Poodles in tutus?

I don’t have a clue. I can never remember my dreams. The only one that comes back to me at the moment is the one where Matthew Maconaghey has a career change and decides to become a groomer, seeking me out for personal hands-on instruction.

Pleasant dreams!

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