dogs Children and dogs are necessary to the welfare of this country…H. Truman                       Two dogs walked over to a parking meter; one dog said, ‘woof, look at that…pay toilets’

It was an awful week; I’m not just referring to the most recent, ritualized political machinations that occurred; the fires still burning in Aussieland; the latest virus; or the ridiculous annual sports event on national TV, but to something that reoccurs for me, appropriately, every Groundhog’s Day. I grieve for and evoke the ghost of a pet born on February 2nd, a magnificent dog that died too soon. As painful as it is to remember my grey ghost, it’s far better than the alternative—to be apathetic or careless about memories of those that were and are no more.

Have you ever had one of those weeks, where you attempt to perform a traditional rite of passage in a post modern world crowded with babble and dung filled deceptions? I tried counting from 10 to Zen. As flood inducing raindrops fell, I attempted to let go of 10 things that bothered me. Then, per the instructions, I was supposed to laugh deeply from the belly and breathe out to the count of 8 (until you hyperventilate). I did; it didn’t work—it just made me dizzy. What did work was switching from new thought/reality to attentive remembrance mode.

Attention, from the Latin verb attendere, means to stretch in a direction—to bend towards in order to attend to someone/thing, physically and mentally. That’s what my dog was all about. He attended to the other hounds every morning, without fail, by licking their ears and face, and sometimes other body parts. He woke me at 6:30 am or earlier, and attentively followed me into the bathroom. He sat patiently until I brushed his teeth. Then he was ready for breakfast… He helped himself to ice from the fridge, and roasts left on the counter. He loved to ride in cars and sit in the pilot seat, and dragged his blankie everywhere he went. No dog ever paid more attention to people and to his world. He wouldn’t rest until everyone was in for the night, no matter how late that was.

I don’t call my dogs by ‘woozy’ names—Fido (Abe Lincoln’s dog), Cujo, Goofy, or Snoopy. I do respect their nobility and sometimes I actually understand them. A book by Temple Brendin Animals in Translation proposed that dogs behave like autistic humans. It struck a cord after I’d issued a warning to guests that my dog behaved like a young Helen Keller around the dinner table, pre Annie Sullivan. I don’t like being called a dog parent because a parent’s goal is to successfully prepare their offspring to leave the nest. My goal is to ensure my hounds never leave.

Someone called me Joan of Bark a while ago. I wanted to rescue most, if not all the dogs from the local pounds; three rescue or foster dogs was what I could manage. I donated money and supplies to canine causes and published a few articles with cringe worthy titles like Canine Kitchery, Apawthacary Magic, and Unfurgetible Fur-niture. I’ve protested lab testing of animals and contacted the local ASPCA if I thought a dog was being mistreated. I paid for two rescue dogs to undergo heartworm treatment and give my hounds a preventative dose of Heartguard monthly. But I keep vaccines to the bare minimal and provide holistic alternatives for flea prevention and minor ailments. Diluted essential oils like cedar, lavender, and geranium work especially well.

Our relationship with dogs goes way beyond the physical—it’s a mental, emotional, cultural, and moral bond. The wolf taught us how to hunt and play, and about the strength of a pack attack. Dogs lead the blind and sniff out land mines and drugs. They jump through hoops and once carried mini barrels of booze in the alps. An older dog I fostered brought me a beautiful, intact pale blue duck egg. My fearless blue weim, whose Remembrance Day is in October, dive bombed a blue jay attacking my other hound that had strayed too close to the blue jay’s nest. When I traveled, my grey ghost always buried a dog toy in my luggage or carry on.

Dogs do so much for us, and yet, I can’t think of a single car named after a dog. Perhaps we could loosen the leash and do away with signs in parks that say: No dogs, no strays. Put down the cellphone and throw the ball; play hide and seek with treats. Shelters always need volunteers to provide exercise or companionship or donate food or bedding. Perhaps we could adopt more dog habits—like wagging our tails instead of our tongues or not biting a colleague’s head off when a simple grrrr would do. And when someone is having a bad day, we could stay close by and listen attentively, put our paw over his/hers, meToo be damned.

This wonkers of a week has ended, thanks in part to unwavering support and wet noses and licks from Willa the Weim and Lady Nola, the smiling Staffie bulldog. So while it might be Year of the Rat 2020 for most folks, for me it’s always Year of the Dog. After we played find the salami bits hidden in the living room (because it was raining cats and…outside), I resumed my research on the myth of Pandora and the seven elderly evils let loose 5,000+ years ago: wrath, gluttony, greed, envy, sloth, pride, and lust. I’m trying to understand how that relates to what we’re experiencing today—in weaponized form. I hope your week was better than mine and your next one is stellar (hope was the one thing left in Pandora’s Box).

Some days, I think, life is a bit like our very own Pandora’s Box. Actually, Pandora was given a jar or pithos, not a box. The pithos oddly resembles the jar which held my grey ghosts ashes. We insist on opening it up, because it’s ours and we want to view its contents. Then we’re often surprised when out flies poop that distracts, disgusts, and addles our minds. This is in part because we forget to put great stuff into the box to ensure that next time we open it, wonderful stuff wiggles its wings and throws Tinkerbell tinsel our way. So into my box went some promises to do good and a poem I wrote about my grey ghost; it’s still very ruff! Here goes:

The Dog Star That Become a Poem

What big paws you had, what a huge mouth and teeth...with which to uncover
every day wonders, fragile things in spring, a bone gnawed to an ivory stub;
Since you’ve been gone I spy death everywhere—in abc’s, the birds and bees
Your scrimshaw verses, intriguingly sublime, untranslatable.

I dread each year hence, on the day I mark your death;
and what divides life into before and after you died
I don’t cock a leg or toss posies on the spot
your ashes were cast, light as air
No, I grieve; I mourn; I howl into the moon.
You’re gone—gone where oh where?

Vowel growls, mystical verbs, all were
attempts to make love a canine term
Ultimately, merciful memories formed—scabs and psychic scars
To staunch the terrible pain I keep picking at
For your death has left me clueless, guilty, crushed, stupid, numb …
Entangled my entrails, made me mum...

They called you spoiled and lucky; no, I was the lucky one
Until that final paw shake, when you signaled you were done.
It’s no mistake you’re a god spelled backwards
No accident you were a catch and release advocate
a bandit, a scamp, a magical mystery tramp…
Dearest grey ghost, I’m forever, most gratefully humbled, you chose me
Despite my lack of pedigree.

Jo Hannigan, February 2020