Friday, June 27, 2008

DOGOLOGY

No, I didn’t mistakenly spell “Doxology” – this is a brief commentary about dogs, inspired by a notice in “The Sewanee Messenger,” published here on The Mountain. The article touted a July 4th Mutt Show to be held on campus, and many show categories are advertised, the most interesting one being “owner/dog look alike” category, which is rivaled by “best dressed dog.” I’ve heard of the theory proposing that people who live together a long time begin to look alike but didn’t know this phenomenon extended to canines. What about whitening hair? And the need for glasses? I guess I’d have to attend the dog show to find out how dogs and their masters/mistresses begin to look alike. As for dressing dogs in human costume, to me that would border on cruelty – what better dress than the luxuriant hair of a freshly-washed black Lab?

My ancestors and immediate family were dogologists, and I grew up with canines, only to develop an allergy to animal dander in my forties. My daughter Stephanie in New Iberia, LA has eight cats that dangle from table tops, drape chairs and sofas and give me hospital-bound allergic reactions, and my daughter Elizabeth in CA owns a miniature Doberman named Darla that tries to catch birds in flight, but, alas, I’m denied the privilege of owning a pet of any kind, save an imaginary one, which I do have. Before you accuse me of “going off,” let me list the advantages of owning an imaginary dog – in my case, a black Labrador retriever that I’ve instructed to start chasing off the deer eating up my rock roses and Mexican heather that line the back walk. The advantages include a house devoid of stiff, long hair, doggy scent vaguely reminiscent of spoiled mushrooms, and water/food puddles on the kitchen floor…not to mention the inevitable fleas that defy even Petmed products. Then, there’s the avoidance of “have to walk no matter what” at least once in the morning, most of the time before the sun has risen in the pink sky…and what about the cruel leash with which one must temper the extrovert dog that wants to leap upon and lick other walkers? Think of how many times you have to bellow “sit, sit, sit,” infinitely before your canine learns to be obedient… and, contrary to his nature, introverted. And wouldn’t you rather avoid the barking that sometimes goes on all night because of twig snaps, blowing wind, car headlights, and night marauding animals like the moles that tunnel in our yard? And what if you should decide to go on vacation without this loyal animal so attuned to your every move it cannot bear the world without you, even if you’re only spending a few days at the Outer Banks? Last year, a good friend in San Antonio, Texas, who traveled to Italy on vacation, was forced to fly home mid-sojourn because his “sausage dog” named Clementine was actually dying from separation pangs.

Of course, all of the above is just “sour grapes” because I’d love to own a black Lab and can’t, so I’ll just have to survive with the imaginary creature named “Black Dog” (after Churchill’s title for days of depression – “black dog days"). If you’re a dogologist and would like a little history on my family’s love of dogs, there’s a long rhyming poem in GRANDMA’S GOOD WAR” entitled “In Defense of Doggerel,” and you might be interested in ordering the book from Border Press. The poem expands on the theme of my Great Uncle Ed’s favorite quote: “The more I see of man, the more I love my dog.”

And here’s another snippet about dogs from my unpublished manuscript RESURRECTION OF THE WORD:

THE BLACK DOG

came running around the fence,
leaping a coulee stitched with fern,
without collar, vagabond Lab
broke loose in happiness
in contradiction, danced
against Churchill’s label of depression:
“black dog days.”

Something in his insouciant sass
brought me a peak moment,
seeing in his black fur
a sheen of freedom
that sent my own happiness
bounding with him,
this intelligent, abashed creature,
loyal to man (who does no deeds for him),
rushing by and unleashing in me
the same wag of spirit.
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