I listen to audio books from Herrick District Library when driving. Biographies are my favourite. Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Leonardo da Vinci inspire and help keep one’s life in perspective. Presently I’m reading John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charlie.” Whoever has not read his “East of Eden” should put it on their bucket list. Nothing better.
Listening to Steinbeck’s adventures touring the country with his pet dog spurs me to tell adventures I had with my Welsh corgi, Elvis. When climbing the Laketown Beach steps between a friend and me, my friend observed, “He thinks he’s human, doesn’t he?” Indeed, it never occurred to Elvis that he wasn’t.
It was at Laketown Beach that Elvis answered the question, “Do Dogs Know Calculus?” the title of my research paper co-authored with him. Essentially, Elvis, starting on shore, retrieved a stick thrown into Lake Michigan by first running and then swimming to fetch it as quickly as possible. The paper provided fame for both of us and gained his picture of him on the cover of numerous journals and several front pages of The Holland Sentinel. I met one of his biographers of him (Keith Devlin, NPR’s Science Guy) at a national math convention. Introducing myself after his talk about him, I exclaimed, “Tim Pennings! I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on!” He then explained to the curious crowd (and me!) That he had sought a picture of Elvis and me for his book of him, but only found ones of us at the beach — me sans shirt.
I readily admit that Elvis was the star of our dog and pony show — or as I’d describe, “Dog and Jack-ass Show.” A former student asked how it felt to be famous just because “you have a dog who is better looking than you even when he is running away?” Don’t argue.
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I sent two copies of the Elvis-covered math journal to fellow-corgi-lover Queen Elizabeth—one signed by me and the other requesting her signature. I received the journal from Buckingham Palace a month later with a note from her de ella “Lady in Waiting” assuring me the Queen found our story interesting, but that she gave her signature de ella only to those she personally knew. Not having that rule for myself, I’m assuming she still appreciates having my signature from her in her library from her. I kept the returned unsigned journal — after all, how many have been spurned by Her Majesty?
That article led to another, “Do Dogs Know Bifurcations?” describing how Elvis, when starting in the water, would first swim to shore, then run along the shore, then swim to the stick, so that the resulting trek was the quickest. Not only did that paper earn me my highest professional honor (MAA George Polya Award), it also earned Elvis an honorary doctor’s degree from Hope College, awarded by Provost Jim Boelkins. The certificate was inscribed with the proper Latin phrase, which I shortened when I made Elvis business cards. I was later told that the abbreviated phrase had a different meaning — it conveyed “doctor” and “dog,” and because of the feminine sense of the Latin word was perhaps best translated, “Dog Gynecologist.” I’ve given away thousands.
Elvis and I gave close to 300 talks all around the country, and I’ve lost count of the number of newspaper articles about him. Colleges would often invite the local press, so as we’d traveled through the state, I’d see his picture of him on the front page of newspapers at rest stops.
I have contributed to recreation trips too. As the advisor for Hope College Outdoor Adventure Club, Elvis and I led groups of students to Pictured Rocks for Fall Break. In lieu of an alarm clock, I’d unzip the tents, gently usher Elvis in among the sleeping students, then quietly command, “Speak. Speak.” Always worked.
He was also fun at home. I once mistakenly fed him an Easter ham bone which plugged up his digestive track. Per the vet’s instructions, I put him on the back porch that night with the door open accessing the back yard. Feeling sorry for him, I bundled in a sleeping bag and joined him. After a chilly night’s sleep, I awoke shivering to find him warm and cozy INSIDE the house. He had pottied, gone to the front door, barked, and my neighbor let him in.
What a guy. Initially Elvis was my dog who was a good friend. Before he died, Elvis was my good friend who just happened to be a dog. Good memories.
— Community Columnist Tim Pennings is a resident of Holland and can be contacted at email@example.com. Previous columns can be found at timothypennings.blogspot.com.