Published: May 01, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: May 01, 2012 12:40 PM
For the love of a good dog
I lay in bed, resting, after working in the yard. My eyes started to close when my wife entered the room. Suddenly a pile of fur was on my head, and licks of tongue slopped my face. I rolled over. “What in the world,” I said.My wife laughed.I opened my eyes as a small black puppy stepped on my nose. It continued licking.“Happy anniversary,” my wife said.We named her Tessa. I sat up and held the puppy while it twittered and squirmed. She emitted little peeps of unbridled joy, squeals of breathless pleasure. I held her to my nose.“Puppy smell,” I said, and smiled.Along a few miles of dirt road, over a bridge of rough planks, crossing onto open fields, past enfeebled homes of graying logs and crumbled chinking, to a pond surrounded by trees, which cast their shadows onto the water. I pulled the car up to the edge of the pond. The dogs, eager to be let out, whined and yapped, walked around each other, rough-housed playfully. I opened the back hatch, and Tessa moved immediately to the water, while Puck, our newest dog, sniffed around the car, picking up scents. This was years ago, when we lived in the country, in southern Person County. Puck was found along a stretch of road, in a ditch, wet and lost, a mere puppy of six weeks. My wife had bundled him up and literally put him in her purse and took him to work. A Saint Bernard mix, thick-coated and thick-necked; he was lovable from the start. Now, he suddenly got wind of something and took off through the woods, yelping like a runaway train. I pulled the kayak off the top of the Subaru, put it in the water, got in, and paddled out to the middle. The sun was out and high overhead. Bull frogs eructed raucously. The heads of turtles silently surfaced; their small mouths protruding above the water as they quickly gulped a bite of air, and then, seemingly conspiratorially, quietly descended. Occasionally a fish or two would hurl itself above the water, showing off, it seemed, as if somewhere in its DNA it was supposed to be a marlin, or some other majestic fish, swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. I watched on the far side of the pond, less than a hundred yards away, a Great Blue Heron stick-leg its way along the shore; its head and long beak thrusting into the water, not percussively like a jackhammer, but with a single-minded precision. I leaned back in the boat. Tessa swam by, belching water. She put her paws on the kayak, tipping it abruptly, and over I went, plunging into the water. When I came up for air, Tessa was beside me, snorting and belching, her front legs going vigorously. I twirled her around and told her to swim back to shore. Wikki, our last dog, came to us when my daughter was a pre-teen. She was taken from a neglectful home and had suffered a number of traumas; the most obvious was a split in the top of one ear. She lamented our leaving the house each morning, though her delight in our returning was equally felt. Wikki was a terrier-mix. She had a curled tail and a black tongue, so Chow was probably a part of her heritage. She could be feisty and persnickety, but she was deeply loyal, and held such an attachment to her family that she aimed only to please. My daughter has one – a Chihuahua and Dachshund mixed-breed dog hilariously labeled a “Chiweenie.” Her name is Olive. It is affectionate to the extreme. There’s always unfinished business when someone or something you adore is sick. I can’t explain this, but you know what I mean. My wife and I have no dogs now. Their passing and their decline came over time, and there were agonizing moments when we had no idea what to do. Watching a dog suffer is hard, but seeing them die is harder. Each of them met something to us; they were family. I’m no nihilist. I believe in long marriages, daughters, baseball, long runs in the woods, and commitment to one’s community. I believe in love. I believe in the universe, but sometimes I wish I knew its secrets, that I knew everything. Even for one second. But I know I would not remember it all because there are mysteries in the world and they exist for a reason. And this is what I have learned about the dogs that I have owned: I hear their sighs as they plop wearily beside me next to a chair; their yelp of delight as they romp through the woods. I hear their toenails tap-tapping across wood floors. I hear their large slurps as they gulp water feverously from a plastic bowl. I see their large eyes, looking at me, unconditionally trusting me.And I believe in them: I believe in the love of a good dog.