DonorsChoose Payoff: Meeting the Queen

Another day, another DonorsChoose incentive claimed. I’m actually late in responding to this one– I missed my self-imposed 24-hour deadline because we’re visiting Kate’s parents outside of Boston, but I’ll try to make up for it with the answer. Anyway, Helen asks:

How did Emmy become part of your household?

We decided we wanted a dog, and spent a bunch of time talking to local rescue groups and visiting animal shelters. We didn’t have much luck, because people kept getting to the dogs we wanted before us, but persistence paid off eventually. The Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society had a couple of promising looking dogs on their web site one day, so I went over there to check them out (by myself, because Kate had to work), and one of them was a raggedy-looking Shepherd mix whose cage tag gave her name as “Princess.” She was very sweet, so I brought her home, where she was quickly re-named “Emmy.”

She seems to have taken the name change as indicating a promotion, from “Princess” to Queen of Niskayuna. The cage tag was also wrong about her being good with other dogs and cats, but she is extremely sweet with people, and remarkably good with SteelyKid to this point.

That’s not much of a story, I realize, so to compensate, below the fold is a fictionalized version of the day we adopted her. This dialogue goes with the introduction of the book-in-progress, and establishes a little of the relationship, and the origin of her interest in physics:


The Humane Society has set up a little path through the woods near their facility, so you can take a walk with a dog you’re thinking of adopting. There’s a bench on the side of the path in a small clearing, and I sit down to look at the dog I’ve taken out.

She sits down next to the bench, and pokes my hand with her nose, so I scratch behind her ears. Kate had to work, but we’ve looked at a bunch of dogs together, and I’ve been dispatched to pick out a dog by myself. This one seems like a good fit.

She’s a year-old mixed-breed dog, German Shepherd and something else. She’s got the classic Shepherd black-and-tan coloring, but she’s small for a Shepherd, and has floppy ears. The tag on her kennel gave her name as “Princess,” but that doesn’t really seem appropriate.

“What do you think, girl?” I ask. “What should we call you?”

“Call me Emmy!” she says.

“Why’s that?”

“Because it’s my name, silly.”

Being called “silly” by a dog is a little surprising, but I guess she has a point. “OK, I can’t argue with that. So, do you want to come live with us?”

“Well, that depends,” she says. “What’s the critter situation like?”

“Beg pardon?”

“I like to chase things. Will there be critters for me to chase?”

“Well, yeah. We’ve got a good-sized yard, and there are lots of birds and squirrels, and the occasional rabbit.”

“Ooooh! I like bunnies!” She wags her tail happily. “How about walks? Will I get walks?”

“Of course.”

“And treats? I like treats.”

“You’ll get treats if you’re a good dog.”

She looks faintly offended. “I am a very good dog. You will give me treats. What do you do for a living?”

“What? Who’s evaluating who, here?”

“I need to know if you deserve a dog as good as me. What do you do for a living?”

“Well, my wife, Kate, is a lawyer, and I’m a professor of physics at Union College. I teach and do research in atomic physics and quantum optics.”

“Quantum what?”

“Quantum optics. Broadly defined, it’s the study of the interaction between light and atoms in situations where you have to describe one or both of them using quantum mechanics.”

“That sounds complicated.”

“It is, but it’s fascinating stuff. Quantum physics has all sorts of weird and wonderful properties. Particles behave like waves, and waves behave like particles. Particle properties are indeterminate until you measure them. Empty space is full of ‘virtual particles’ popping in and out of existence. It’s really cool.”

“Hmmm.” She looks thoughtful, then says, “One last test.”

“What’s that?”

“Rub my belly.” She flops over on her back, and I reach down to rub her belly. After a minute of that, she stands up, shakes herself off, and says “OK, you’re pretty good. Let’s go home.”

We head back to the kennel to fill out the adoption paperwork. As we’re walking, she says, “Quantum physics, huh? I’ll have to learn something about that.”

“Well, I’d be happy to explain it to you sometime.”