View from Mattie’s Pillow

About dogs-for Glow:

The cold weather we dreaded hasn’t materialized. Tonight, when I went out to feed the horses, snow fell in fine white flakes through the floodlight on the peak of our house. Sam had a thick fleece of it along his back. Mattie, who had been in the shed, had a light powdered sugaring along her back and rump. The dog dashed around in the soft new snow, kicking it up behind him, rolling in it, nesting down, watching me cut open a new hay bale, waiting to see if I would feint his way so he could leap up and dash around me in long loops.

The dog is a young, nearly year old Standard Poodle pup. It surprises people who know me to learn that this is the new dog in my life. The dog before him, Kermit, my companion for 16 years was a mixture of three breeds: Shepherd, Corgi, and Lab–all big body, big bark, short legs. He had a talent for shedding on three twice-a-year cycles, one for each breed. He was hard headed, but my dog to the core. He had claimed me at the shelter when I wandered in full of skepticism to look for a dog. I was about to walk out when I saw a yellow dog in a pen, looking at me with recognition and urgency. I asked to see him; my guard was up. Then I felt his ears, the softest fur I had ever touched. I came back for him the next day and spent sixteen years trying to discern what that look was telling me.

I don’t know how to write about dogs the way I do about horses though dogs seem essential to a good life. Without one, there’s an empty space in the house, and it’s hard to know when strangers or anyone else drives up to the house without the barking. Dog training is a precise but playful activity, not edged with danger like horse training. A dog is an animal of manageable size: a head on the lap, a paw in the hand, a quick jog side by side–none of this is easy with a horse.

Tonight I took the poodle, Jeter, to get the last of a round of shots. He was ecstatic to go to the vet and, when I dropped the leash, ran from the car all the way up the stairs and sat waiting eagerly at the door of the vet’s office. He’s a shaggy mound of brown fur, still in his puppy cut, and he wiggled from tail to head as he greeted the attendants in the clinic. He has a habit of standing on his hind feet to hug people he hasn’t seen for a while (even if it’s me coming back from feeding horses), so he embraced all the humans in the clinic. There’s a toy poodle in the clinic, left there by former owners, now the clinic dog–a distant cousin, the size he was when he first came home with us. Jeter sniffed this dog then play-bowed to it hoping for a romp. She sniffed at him, then ducked under a chair.

When I posted the excerpt from the horse book yesterday, I wrote that dogs lie–that was Kermit, who never felt that he had been fed recently enough or been out on enough walks. But this young dog is eager, straightforward, gentle, earnest. Kermit always seemed ready to pick up a conversation left over from some previous life, as if he had been dropped suddenly into a dog’s body and wanted anyone who would pay attention to know about it. Jeter seems to love to be a dog and to bring us with him into a world of play: flying snow, wayward sticks, a game of tug now and then, and long walks. And he’s been running up on the hill where Kermit’s grave is, where the irises and delphiniums will blossom in the summer. Maybe he knows more than he lets on.

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