A tail we could wag

Last Locust puppy play date by abbyef, via Flickr. Our German shepherd Pyrrha gives a dramatic play bow. #gsd
Pyrrha during a play date.

“In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.”

— W.H. Auden

. . . . . . . . . . .

Happy Friday! Isn’t a wag such a wonderful, happy thing to observe?

One of my favorite facts about Pyrrha is that I can just look at her from across the room and smile, and her tail starts to wag. Or I say her name. Or, “Hey, good girl.” With a fearful dog like P, this is so deeply heartwarming to me, that just receiving a little verbal affection and recognition from me can make her tail thump on the floor.

Eden, however, is not prone to give many wags. She takes herself VERY seriously. We get lots of wags (and body slams and face nips) when we greet her first thing in the morning, or upon coming home from work, but she is not very liberal in handing out wags. But in play, you get a few intense, focused wags. It’s hard to explain, but they are much more focused than Pyrrha’s calm, slow wags; Eden wags with intention.

Is your dog very wag-gy? Or does he or she keep a more silent tail?

Unqualified, unconditional regard

Click for source.

“Another human being will never bring us to the same unqualified, unconditional regard that a dog does. Our full immersion in language brings with it qualification and condition; once we enter the world of signs, we can never again be so single-minded.”

— Mark Doty, Dog Years

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Happy weekend, everyone! Hope it is restful. I may be arranging a small play-date between Bo and Zoe while their owners are out of town. Should be fun! Let’s just up the Bo-ster isn’t too rambunctious for Zoe, the dignified older woman…

Poem: “The Retrieval System”

A gorgeous poem about how we are able to see the people we love in animals.

Source: Shirley Bittner

The Retrieval System
By Maxine Kumin

It begins with my dog, now dead, who all his long life
carried about in his head the brown eyes of my father,
keen, loving, accepting, sorrowful, whatever;
they were Daddy’s all right, handed on, except
for their phosphorescent gleam tunneling the night
which I have to concede was a separate gift.

Uncannily when I’m alone these features
come up to link my lost people
with the patient domestic beasts of my life. For example,
the wethered goat who runs free in pasture and stable
with his flecked, agate eyes and his minus-sign pupils
blats in the tiny voice of my former piano teacher

whose bones beat time in my dreams and whose terrible breath
soured “Country Gardens,” “Humoresque,” and unplayable Bach.
My elderly aunts, wearing the heads of willful
intelligent ponies, stand at the fence begging apples.
The sister who died at three has my cat’s faint chin,
my cat’s inscrutable squint, and cried catlike in pain.

I remember the funeral. The Lord is my shepherd,
we said. I don’t want to brood. Fact: It is people who fade,
it is animals that retrieve them. A boy
I loved once keeps coming back as my yearling colt,
cocksure at the gallop, racing his shadow
for the hell of it. He runs merely to be.
A boy who was lost in the war thirty years ago
and buried at sea.

Here, it’s forty degrees and raining. The weatherman
who looks like my resident owl, the one who goes out and in
by the open haymow, appears on the TV screen.
With his heart-shaped face, he is also my late dentist’s double,
donnish, bifocaled, kind. Going a little gray,
advising this wisdom tooth will have to come out someday,
meanwhile filling it as a favor. Another save.
It outlasted him. The forecast is nothing but trouble.
It will snow fiercely enough to fill all these open graves.

Something is always escaping

Source: Shirley Bittner.

“Try to say what you love about your partner, or what it is about someone that produces in you an intense state of erotic excitement or longing, or even how it feels, precisely, to have a fever–soon it’s obvious that we, too, are only partial citizens of the world of language. Something is always escaping; dogs are a kind of figure, an extreme example of that difficulty, and it makes them all the more cherishable.”

— Mark Doty, Dog Years

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone! I will be back at the blog in January. Looking forward to a much-needed vacation with family and friends down south. Hope you all enjoy very peaceful, happy, and dog-friendly holidays!

Warmly,

Abby

Review: Dog Years

Dog Years, by Mark Doty.

My husband is a poet in the process of earning his MFA. I read a lot–mostly literary novels, classics, and dog books, as you know–but I like to keep up with his side of the world, too. He always speaks very highly of the poet Mark Doty. Last year, at his urging, I read Doty’s beautiful collection My Alexandria. I loved it and have been interested in him and his work ever since.

You can imagine how thrilled I was when I found out that Doty had written a memoir about dogs. How perfect! The book is about dogs, yes, but it is primarily about grief, love, loss, and the hiddenness of the human soul. Dog Years covers the time during which Doty’s partner, Wally, died of AIDS and during which he had two dogs in his life, Arden and Beau, who shepherded him through this devastating loss.

While Wally is dying, Arden and Beau themselves are steadily aging. A large part of the book also deals with Doty processing Beau’s somewhat premature death from kidney failure. He adopted Beau from the local shelter when Beau was a young adult, perhaps one or two years old. Beau, a golden retriever, was so severely underweight at the time that the shelter had called him a “saluki mix” due to his sunken chest and visible ribs. Over time, however, Beau becomes a healthy, vibrant, funny dog who brings the standard amount of light and joy into Doty’s life.

These real stories from Doty’s life with his loves–Wally and his dogs–are so breathlessly beautiful and sad. They are never sappy. They are never excessively overwrought with emotion. Rather, this memoir of grief is so palpable and authentic that it is difficult to read without one’s eyes welling up.

I’ve already posted this passage from Dog Years before, but I want to quote it again, because to me, it captures why I care about dogs so much:

Being human is most likely a much lonelier endeavor than being a dog. Of course, many dogs spend a great deal of their time in solitude, waiting for someone to come home, for the world to begin again–but they live in a state of connectedness, it seems, that we have lost, if indeed we ever possessed it. Is that why we turn to them, they who are always ready to receive, to join in wholeheartedly, as we so often cannot? To be human is to be a watcher; sometimes even at our moments of great joy or great grief there is a part of us conscious of our being, observing that being. I do not think dogs have such a part; they are all right here, involved in whatever it is, and therefore they are a sort of cure for our great, abiding loneliness. A temporary cure, but a real one.

Doty recognizes this beautiful quality of the canine soul, the dog’s ability to enter into that “state of connectedness” that so often eludes us humans. And yet he is consistently a watcher himself. He dutifully records his emotions, his doubts, his rages. But he trusts Beau and Arden to guide him through the deeper, more difficult moments.

Quite simply, Dog Years is one of the most beautiful memoirs I’ve ever read, and I think I’ve read quite a few excellent ones. I would recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone, especially with those who have loved and lost.

A state of connectedness

Click for source.

“Being human is most likely a much lonelier endeavor than being a dog. Of course, many dogs spend a great deal of their time in solitude, waiting for someone to come home, for the world to begin again–but they live in a state of connectedness, it seems, that we have lost, if indeed we ever possessed it. Is that why we turn to them, they who are always ready to receive, to join in wholeheartedly, as we so often cannot? To be human is to be a watcher; sometimes even at our moments of great joy or great grief there is a part of us conscious of our being, observing that being. I do not think dogs have such a part; they are all right here, involved in whatever it is, and therefore they are a sort of cure for our great, abiding loneliness. A temporary cure, but a real one.”

— Mark Doty, Dog Years

(One of my favorite passages from the wonderful memoir.) Happy Friday, everyone!

Poem: “This little Hound within the Heart”

Model with a borzoi. Source: Mr. Harris Tweed

What shall I do–it whimpers so–
This little Hound within the Heart
All day and night with bark and start–
And yet, it will not go–
Would you untie it, were you me–
Would it stop whining–if to Thee–
I sent it–even now?

Emily Dickinson

Review: Shaggy Muses

Shaggy Muses, by Maureen Adams

This book sounded like the perfect diversion from training and behavior books. I was an English major and wrote a honors thesis on Virginia Woolf and had previously loved Woolf’s “biography” of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s spaniel, Flush. I love reading about women writers–and women writers plus their dogs? What’s not to love? In Shaggy Muses, psychologist Maureen Adams looks at five great women authors and explores their complex and beautiful relationships with their dogs.

Adams discusses the relationships between Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Flush, the much-beloved cocker spaniel; Emily Bronte and her mastiff, Keeper; Emily Dickinson and her sweet Newfoundland, Carlo; Edith Wharton and her various toy breeds, mostly Pekingese; and Virginia Woolf and her various dogs, especially the spaniel Pinka, featured on the cover of this book. (Pinka served as her role model for the character of Flush when Woolf was writing Flush’s biography.)

I found that the common theme of this book was this: Dogs helped these women through grief and loneliness. The life of a woman artist is rarely cheery, especially if you had the misfortune of being a woman artist in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The companionship of a dog, according to Adams, helped these women come out of their shells.

My only complaint with the book is through no fault of Adams’. Rather, it is difficult to know much about some of these women, especially the famously mysterious Emily Bronte, without speculation. Occasionally, I felt like Adams overstepped her bounds as an objective researcher, but she is a psychologist, so I suppose she can’t be blamed.

There are many beautiful and touching comments from these writers about their dogs, many of which I plan to feature here in the weeks to come. So, keep your eyes peeled. Overall, I’d recommend this book as a light and interesting overview of the ways in which dogs have comforted and cheered some of the world’s most gifted artists.

Xenia

14/52  my old dog ♥
Source: Flickr user, ciscolo

A beautiful poem about the death of an old dog that was posted on Slate this week:

“Xenia”
By Robin Becker

Most days that summer your old dog came up,
in the searing heat, with a failing heart,
from your place, the half-mile uphill to mine―

up the steep rise, past the pastured goats, on
the buggy trail that swerves through blueberries.

As you pointed out, The Odyssey
is full of tears, everyone weeping
to find and lose and find each other again.

Spent, he struggled the last two hundred yards,
ears low, chest heaving. Hearing
the jangling of his tags I knew the gods

had chosen me to praise him for his journey,
offer food and water, a place to sleep.