I regularly get letters from irate MacNeil-Lehrer-watching readers who ask: ”With all the serious problems facing the world, how come you write about your dogs?” To which I answer: Because I don’t know anything about your dogs. —Dave Barry, 1988
November of 2011 was second only to October in its unimaginable rock-bottom misery on the timeline of my life up to then. If you are not a regular reader of this here blog: my now ex walked away from our marriage of twenty-three years in October. By November he had finally moved out of the house, something I had implored him to do, since he was openly and joyously dating a neighbor at that point; but he also took our family dog—a gentle Shiloh Shepherd named Teddy Blue—when he left. And true to his style, he used his most clever, sneaky stealth mode to do it, leaving a note on the kitchen table one morning that he had taken Teddy to the vet, and then ultimately never bringing him home. I knew it was possible I would never again see the dog who came of age as our child’s closest companion; the reality was that I saw him a few times after that, but he looked worse and worse on each visit, and our encounters were detached and tragic. Teddy’s demise came last August, under circumstances that I still do not fully understand; I gather he has since been replaced by a puppy of his ilk whose future well being is tenuous at best, in my humble opinion.
But that is neither here nor there. In November of 2011 I had scheduled cataract surgery for an eye that is already seriously compromised because of a retina disease for which I have been treated since February of 2001. With memories of difficult and painful eye surgery in 2001, I was really sweating this more routine surgery which I would traverse mainly alone this time, save one beautiful, dear friend who drove me to and from the surgery center and made me swear and pinky promise I was okay to be left by myself for the night. My mom and her husband arrived to help the next day in spite of my unwillingness to give up control of anything and everything to do with moi. But by then I found myself completely out of steam and thankful to have a mama who brought me homemade soup and home baked bread—an act of love she would repeat over the course of nearly an entire year as she watched me drop ten, then twenty, then thirty pounds while I navigated clinical depression and destruction left in the wake of my family’s demise. I had my surgery the Tuesday before Thanksgiving; by Thursday I was feeling pretty good, and was happy with my vision, such as it was. We had bread and soup on Thanksgiving Day, and my stalwart mom insisted I go on a long walk with her afterwards. She hung around ‘til Friday, and satisfied that I was okay by myself, headed home with her husband that morning.
Then on Friday afternoon, seventy-five pounds of tail-wagging, shedding, slobbery, German Shepherd Dog crossed my threshold to claim me as his forever human. Clarence. I doubt I will ever be without a dog in my life; I can’t speak for other dog or cat lovers, but for me, I feel a connection when I look into a dog’s eyes in particular. People have attachments to their pets of varying intensity, and mine is on the continuum somewhere. I don’t consider my dog my child, nor relate to him like he’s a human. I think I have a pretty good grasp of where he is in the firmament of creatures. We take care of each other; he is a working dog who needs a job to do, and I am his job. I enjoy his affection and companionship and don’t mind repaying his hard work in kind in the guise of affection, exercise, food, shelter, veterinary care, and of course, play. I don’t think our bond is too much more complicated than that, but it is a tight bond, and is important, and is one of love.
Clarence. Angel, second class. And the name of my maternal granddad. He arrived by way of a high school friend whose life’s work has been animal welfare, and who happened to know of this particular dog and the rescue agency who was fostering him at the time I contacted him. I did not name him, nor do I know exactly his circumstances prior to being placed with a rescue organization, but he just felt right, somehow, and so did his arrival, the day after Thanksgiving, a couple of days after my surgery, when I was quite alone and still grasping that this condition was my new reality. He is a young dog, a dog eager to run with me, and sleep at my feet, hang with me wherever I happen to be in the house, and travel with me. He was content to ride in the back of my car a thousand miles from Knoxville, Tennessee to our new home in Vermont, and he has been content to learn to tolerate New England winter, with its ice and snow and wind and occasional power outages. And he has been surprisingly willing to allow someone new into the pack, whose happy, handsome, playful company Clarence and I both anticipate and enjoy when the opportunity presents itself.
As I have said many times before, I am not kidding anybody. Clarence-the-canine rescued me at a time when I desperately needed rescuing.
Good dog Clarence, wonderful life.