Open letter to my dog

A lot of years ago somebody found you tied to a gate. I wasn’t even there but somehow I have a memory of it. The woman at the dog shelter (the one who dresses like a man) was rostered on first shift that day. She found you. She told us how you emerged from knee high grass straining at the rope to greet her.

I can see you hiding in that grass.

I can see you straining on that tattered rope.

I never knew a dog could be so smart. The ingenious ways you escaped during thunderstorms. The hide-seek-game you invented with its complex rules. It took me a while to figure out, that I was supposed to hide, and you’d come and find me. You were always doing something amazing. Who could abandon a dog like this? What did you do that was so unforgivable that they decided to tie you to a gate and just walk away? I never figured it out.

Four days ago we came back from the supermarket to find you blocking the door, foaming at the mouth in a convulsive fit. We rung the vet and said the medication seemed to have stopped working. I wrapped you in a towel. You lay on the back seat, shuddering and gasping, while I caught every red light and cursed god for his ambivalence.

I didn’t cry when the vet said this was it for you, just like I’d promised. I stayed strong and reached out to touch you at the moment he put the needle in. I stayed silent when your chest stopped rising and falling, just letting the moment happen. I took you home wrapped in the same blanket and measured a hole with the space between my elbow and fingertips. Then I dug the dirt out of that space buried you in it. After that I leaned the shovel against the house and sat on the back porch next to your water bowl and bawled my eyes out.

Some memories I have of you are movement. Like how drunk on power you’d get with your dominion over nature. I remember how you’d run barking along the high tide line at the beach, carving flocks of seagulls in half, unzipping them into the air.

Other memories are of stillness. Like an infinity of Saturday afternoons lying on the floor in front of the TV watching the football. You would nestle into my arm and fall asleep on my shoulder, your lolling tongue bleeding drool into the fabric of my t-shirt.

I need to put things in perspective. I need a better appreciation of our place in the world. Just a man and a dog treading water in their rightful place – an indeterminate location in a sea of irrelevance. But you need to understand some things too, about context, and about love. Do you know how much bigger you were than the physical space you occupied?

Every place I am, you keep surprising me, by not being there when I turn around. I catch myself initiating redundant routines, tripping over them. I refuse to play the “very last time we…” game. The chronology doesn’t matter. My loss is that everything about you has become static. Fixed. Immutable. Now what you are is what you’ve been and that’s it. And these are things that make me cry. All of the vague possibilities we had have been tied down flat for you. I’ve lost the privilege of projecting a version of the future with you in it. I can still lay on the floor and watch the football, but you won’t be able to leak spit on me.

She misses you too, but in her own way. Matter-of-factly, she cleaned your bedding and put your things away. She took your unopened food back to the supermarket for a refund. Wordlessly efficient. But then last night she cried too. And grief came to her as it normally does – days later, crawling out from some dark place, up and over the edge of the bed, slapping her awake. She sobbed suddenly and inconsolably for a time. I stroked her hair, but offered no words, because I didn’t have any that she wanted to hear.

The upshot of all this is that I’m coping less well than I thought I would. So I’ve decided to bend those immutable rules a bit, just for you. Just enough so I can slip between the bars and conceive a future for us, one more time. A made-up place on the edge of reality, where I might or might not be there, but you may or may not be there also. My hope is that through poetic deference to the Gods of quantum physics, they might allow it to happen. Just this once. Just to be nice.

So if we’re lucky we might both be there in this place, at the same time. Think of it like some cosmic game of hide-and-seek. So what happens is that one day you turn around, and I’m just there.

Come and find me.

Open letter to my dog


Wolf, Australia

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