A Banjo On My Knee

By Qin Sun Stubis

He was only about one year old. We did not know where he came from, who his family was, or how he ended up there. But there he was, abandoned and in a crate among some 90 dogs at an animal shelter in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His large, inquisitive brown eyes quietly followed my husband, Mark, as he and his team from the American Humane Association unloaded emergency supplies for animals displaced by Hurricane Sandy.

Chinese people believe that the eyes are the windows of the soul. Just the exchange of few glances and stares was enough to bring the two strangers–a man and a dog–together. Within hours, Mark signed the papers and found him a new home. Ours.

Our newest family member is a Jack Russell terrier mix. We named him “Banjo” because he sits like a banjo on your knee and is master of a rich vocabulary of sounds.

We spent the weekend having fun with him, taking him to a dog park, strolling through neighborhood streets, and visiting a local pet store. But, when Monday came and everyone left for work and school, Banjo became anxious.

He sat at the edge of the sofa, watching my every move. He didn’t want to be left alone and followed me wherever I went. The minute I stepped out of the house, he barked continuously, louder and louder, with no intention of stopping. My heart ached for this little fellow, realizing that he was having abandonment issues. I also knew at that moment that my life had been forever changed.

When news got out that we adopted a dog, advice poured in as to how to train and discipline Banjo. But, applying what seemed like simple rules proved not to be so easy in real life. He is our first dog. We spoke very different languages and understood little of each other. Nevertheless, I was determined to work with my new furry friend.

So far, it’s been quite an experience discovering his personality and habits, and learning ways of talking to each other. I call it “trans-species communication,” which includes nonverbal and verbal cues–variations on barks and whines from him, and words from me. Much to my amazement, Banjo is a very smart canine and quite an excellent communicator.

Three weeks after he arrived, I was sitting in the sunroom writing when he came out from behind a kitchen counter holding my boot. He dropped it in the middle of the room and sat beside it.

“What is it?” I asked him. I was about to say not to use my boot as a toy when I realized it was about noon, the time I always took him out to the backyard to do his duty.

“You want to go out?” I asked. He wagged his tail in reply and quickly followed me outside. It turned out that he had an urgent call of nature and knew that I always put on my boots when I took him out!

With my Banjo on my knee, I’m busier than ever. But he’s also enriched my life. As I learn how to become a dog’s best friend, Banjo is also teaching me a new kind of love that I have never had before.

You can always reach me at qstubis@gmail.com

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