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This dog gets high Marx for his smarts

It's risky business to anthropomorphize your pets' behavior, but empirical evidence cannot be ignored.

No doubt our dog Harpo has been hiding the fact his intellectual prowess is on par with most of us bipeds. But the other day, perchance pondering the theory of relativity, the black Labrador with a bit of English mastiff trotting through his veins let his hairy guard down.

It happened when I took both Harpo and his furry pal Waldo out for a walk on the back acreage. Both of these mutts weigh a little over 100 pounds. Either one could pull a plow.

Waldo, who is of mixed breed, including Staffordshire terrier, needs to be kept on a leash because of his wanderlust. The quick-witted pooch made good his escape when I relaxed my grip while opening a gate. He gleefully ran off, paying no heed to my calls.

That's when Harpo sprinted after him, grabbed his leash with his pearly whites and loped back to me with a grinning Waldo in tow.

As for Harpo, he was wearing his trademark Elvis smirk. It's a thing he does with his upper right lip curled up over his teeth.

"Our dogs are pulling the fur over our eyes," I warned my wife later after relating the anecdote. "They pretend to be as dumb as turnips but in reality they are just scamming us.

"We trudge off to work, they sleep," I continued. "We toil away all day, then come home and feed them a sumptuous dinner and take them for a walk. And that's all before we grab a quick bite. Something is wrong with this picture."

Maureen rolled her eyes the way a babysitter does when a child declares that trees moving make the wind blow.

"Harpo and Waldo are smart dogs but they are not canine Einsteins, sweetie," she said. "They are definitely not hoodwinking us. Really. Sometimes you scare me."

"Hey, I once read that Albert Einstein had a dog named Chico Marx," I insisted. "Apparently old Chico gave Albert tips back at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton whenever the scientist was stumped. And you know full well that Harpo was also named after one of the Marx brothers."

"Right, but back on Earth, Harpo is just a regular dog who does dog things," Maureen sighed. "Our dogs are adorable and lovable. They are not geniuses. And you know you should never believe everything you read."

Sadly, she has fallen for that old dog trick in which pooches act intellectually challenged in front of humanoids by sniffing each other's posteriors. Obviously a dog diversion cooked up to throw us off the scent, so to speak.

While my wife is more than a bit dubious about my doggone theories, she does acknowledge that Harpo and Waldo have a leisurely lifestyle.

Take the dog sandwiches she makes for them between meals. These are soft taco shells and cheese which look mighty appetizing.

In fact, the first time she made them she failed to tell me they were for the dogs.

"Hey, you could start a franchise with these — mighty tasty," I told her as I happily munched away.

"You are eating dog food," she said, instantly wiping the road-apple eating grin off my face. "Please don't start eating out of their bowls."

As if I would sink to that level. Sure, there are times when I look longingly at their dishes routinely filled with tasty tidbits meant for my bowl, er, dish.

But I could never get down on the floor like that. Bad knees.

Evidence of Harpo's intellectual smarts aren't limited to retrieving Waldo, which, incidentally, he has also done for Maureen. Sometimes he seems to be talking, albeit Maureen claims it's just gibberish. Other times he stares at the paper and moans. It's probably just a coincidence that occurs when his big brown eyes are focusing on column on the front of the Local section, Sunday edition.

Granted, aside from Chico Marx's master, being on par with humanoid intelligence would be nothing to brag about down at the kennel.

Any student of the human animal has concluded we seem to be making a mess of things on this planet. If something hasn't been snafued, it's only because we haven't gotten around to it yet.

In fact, when someone tells me our country is going to the dogs, I tell them they are being overly optimistic.

Meanwhile, I have a plan to catch Harpo in his act. I've set a trap in the form of a chess board on a coffee table. I've already made the first move with a my pawn.

So far Harpo hasn't made his move. He just sits there with that Elvis smirk.

I figure if he checkmates me I'll accidentally knock over the board. He can whine about it but he won't be able to tell a soul.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.