Friday, January 2, 2009

Old Dogs

Yesterday's post about dogs and about a good book and a good movie on the same topic brought a comment from Barry that I'm going to move at least an element of to the front page. Barry linked his comment to a Gene Weingarten story about the pleasures inherent in owning an old dog. And that article is what I want to tout today.

A good friend of mine who teaches creative writing likes to say that the clearest indication we're in the presence of truly good writing is when we think, as we're reading, "I wish I'd written that." There are a lot of those moments in the piece linked to above--passages that I paused to read aloud to . . . well . . . that's another post, but here's a sample I could particularly identify with:

I believe I know exactly when Harry became an old dog. He was about 9 years old. It happened at 10:15 on the evening of June 21, 2001, the day my family moved from the suburbs to the city. The move took longer than we'd anticipated. Inexcusably, Harry had been left alone in the vacated house -- eerie, echoing, empty of furniture and of all belongings except Harry and his bed-- for eight hours. When I arrived to pick him up, he was beyond frantic.

He met me at the door and embraced me around the waist in a way that is not immediately reconcilable with the musculature and skeleton of a dog's front legs. I could not extricate myself from his grasp. We walked out of that house like a slow-dancing couple, and Harry did not let go until I opened the car door.

When I stopped laughing, I remembered back to 2002, when we moved from Colorado to North Carolina. The movers had come and taken away everything we owned except for the small trailer load of things we would be moving ourselves the next day. That evening, we had one last event to attend: my daughter's dance recital. Normally, we would have left my dog, Sydni, in the back yard, but there were two things keeping that from being an option. First, I had already taken down the electric fence. (Yes, electric fence. Sydni was an escape artist. Shortly after I'd gotten her--a rescue dog I acquired when she was already two and a half--we'd looked out the back door to see her walking back and forth on the two-by-four top rail of our six-foot-high privacy fence. When we stepped out the door to call her, she immediately jumped down . . . on the other side, from which neighbor's yard she promptly escaped into the world at large. This was back in the day when she could run. Fast. For a long time. It was a Keystone Cops chase scene at its best. Every moment of which was a thoroughly enjoyable game to her. She wasn't running away. She was just running. She couldn't get enough.) The second reason was that an entire section of fence was down while new concrete set around the post I'd replaced that day. For some reason, "inexcusably," as Weingarten points out, we thought Sydni would be okay in the basement. Right. As with Weingarten's house, the basement, though finished and as much a part of the house as the upstairs, had been completely emptied of everything we owned. Bad idea.

We were only gone about three hours. But the next day we were a good six hours late hitting the road. I had to replace the basement door. And the carpet on the top step. And the board under the carpet. My poor dog. I guess she'd decided we'd emptied the house and then locked her in the basement for good. Hard to believe that was the same dog who now sleeps ninety percent of the day away. But she still prefers to be around people and disdains to eat alone. I can put her food down almost any time, but she'll not eat it until I or we sit down to dinner as well. And she gives the most awesome hugs. She doesn't wrap forearms around the waist like Harry above, but she buries her head into your legs, or your lap, or your chest and pushes as if she would burrow straight into your heart if she could. And, in her own way, she does.

One last thing: if you go to the link to read the Weingarten piece, be sure to click on the photo gallery as well. The photos of old dogs are worth it. My favorite is Kobi, photo number six. Sure, try to convince yourself that animals don't have souls. Good luck with that.