Thursday, February 6, 2014

DOGGONE

Kenyon
Allergies are awful...no two ways about it, allergies are awful. Through some genetic pipeline, I inherited most of my Grandmother Nell's allergies, and they don't improve with age. One of the worst allergies from which I suffer is an allergy to animal dander, a condition that makes me not only resentful but downright angry because it means I can't own a dog. Dogs were a vital part of my growing up and included a flatulent, half-breed cocker spaniel named Tee Nap that accompanied my family on a foolhardy trip out West when I was eleven years old. At that time, my allergy to animal dander wasn't in full bloom, and Tee Nap lay at my feet on the long road trip to Diddy Wah Diddy, unaffected by the complaints of three children stuffed into the back seat of a small, 1941 Ford coupe.

To make a long story short, the allergy to animal dander kicked in in earnest when I reached the age of 50, along with an allergy to my favorite food—shellfish. The allergy to animal dander began with a fit of sneezing over a cat that belonged to my youngest daughter and progressed rapidly to include dogs.

My family always owned female dogs, and I laughed aloud as I read an essay by E.B. White entitled "Dog Training" that describes his father's reaction to owning a "bitch" dog. White says that one day a mutt followed him home from school, and he persuaded his parents to let him keep it. It stayed with him only one night because the next morning his father took him aside and told him in a low voice that the dog was female and that it would have to go. When E.B. White asked why, his father, embarrassed, explained that the dog would be a nuisance and would attract all the male dogs in the neighborhood all the time. White wrote that this seemed like an idyllic arrangement to him, but he could tell that the new dog was doomed to live somewhere else...and was evicted. Nonetheless, in adulthood, when E.B. White bought his farm in New England, he also acquired two dachshunds and a wire-haired fox terrier, and with sheep to take care of, was "obliged to do my shepherding with [their] grotesque and sometimes underhanded assistance..."

Of course, during my childhood we just put up with broods of puppies when our female dogs beget, but nowadays, female parents are spayed. In the 40's, dogs didn't expect much in the way of medical care nor did they expect anything unusual in their diet—they subsisted on that food unknown to a dog today—"scraps," including chicken bones and leftover Rice Crispies swimming in milk, and their longevity was no less than it is today. In fact, they may have lived longer. I might add that they survived in doghouses of the same architecture that housed Snoopy in the "Peanuts" comic strip and were constantly breaking leash laws.

Back in the 90's, I was asked to ghost write a piece for the artist, George Rodrigue, about his dog Tiffany, and we met for an interview at Landry's Restaurant near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana where George had a small studio. The piece was never published, but I still have a record of the interview and the piece I wrote that was unused because Harper and Row wanted a fantasy told by Tiffany.  The two-hour interview included a lot of questions about "man and the psychic dog" that I had gleaned from a book entitled Dog by Patricia Green. Green says that a legend tells us how after the Creation, a gulf opened up between man and the animals that God had given names. Among the animals was this dog looking at the ever-widening breach and when separation was almost complete, the dog leapt across the gulf, taking its place beside man. I asked George if he thought that's what Tiffany did and he affirmed this idea.

In Dog, Ms. Green says that a psychic dog may be a devourer or creator, a wounder or healer, a contaminator or purifier and may represent the redemptive elements in man's life. It was interesting to me that Rodrigue painted the blue dog as a redemptive element. Tiffany always had to be in the foreground of his paintings.

I have friends who speak of dogs as being there for them when they experience despair or sadness and that act as an archetype in their lives. The dogs represent hope and healing, protecting their owners from danger.

I could go on at length about dogs, but the narration won't do any good as far as allergies are concerned. I'm seriously considering getting allergy shots so that I can find a dog like the one on this blog—a female black lab retriever. I already have a name for her. My black lab will be called "Kenyon" after the poet I most admire but who, unhappily, is deceased: Jane Kenyon.


I hope she won't mind being a ghost dog until I get my round of allergy shots... "Here, Kenyon..." 
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