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the dogs

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vonnie
1986-2001
i

It was never written down, and not spoken of,
not much really, but it was a deal of sorts,
and given our natures, hers and mine,
it couldn't have happened much other way
than the way it did. It worked like this. She loved me
in the way dogs do, whatever way that is,
maybe as she would love the biggest and strangest
dog she ever knew, who shared food with her
and made a place for her in the pile-on
that was our home, and tried to keep her
from getting killed in some darn fool way.
I loved her in the way humans do, whatever way
that is, maybe somehow like the way
a mother loves her child, a child who couldn't speak
and would never grow up, but only grow old and die.

I want her to lie next to me again
on a cold night and have the warmth of her against
my back, and her to have the warmth of me against
her back, both of us together against the cold,
and when I wake, find her watching over me.
Maybe not the best of deals, but good enough,
good enough, and maybe about the best
we both could hope for.


ii

Her world has gone small, her day and night
the need to eat and the need to eliminate.
The distance from her bed to the nearest plot
of lawn is pole to pole.

Born in her when she was born,
tiny at first, growing as she grew,
a larva that has feasted all her life
is now eating away at her heart
and defecating in her lungs
and will soon emerge as the butterfly
of death.

Her eye should have told me. She had
such shining eyes, and now
her only eye is small and almost blind, but even now
it casts a light, and I should have known,
should have read her mind in her eye, and killed
her before now, before her light
turned yellow and sick.

Life is leaking out of her skin
like earthworms flushed out of the earth
by rain. Her life is flooding
the bed she lies in and the tattered chairs
and the shut up room,
with all its ruins of another age
and armchair graffiti carved by dogs
no longer living,
and the walls already washed
by other lives, so that the air
itself seems yellow and sick
stained so many times
by the last expectorations of life.

I know that soon I will hold her in my arms
as the tautness of her life
goes slack, and the doctor will
withdraw the needle and leave us,
and I will try to close her eye
and it won't close. I will try
to put her tongue back in her mouth and close
her jaws, and her waste will begin to leak.
And then I'll say, not for the last time,
what have I done, what have I done?

– Randy Wilson


Vonnie was an eight-week old puppy in a land of giants, one tenth the size of even the smallest of the gang of year-old Irish setters who became her new family, back in July of 1986. And I think in her own mind she never grew bigger than that, beginning as and remaining the chipper omega dog of the troop, good-natured and sweet with everyone, if always somewhat timid. This was both her strength and her weakness in many ways. I wanted very much for her to be a hiking dog because she was easy to handle on the trail, but it became apparent fairly early on that she didn't really enjoy hiking all that much because she seemed not to enjoy the novelty of the situation absent the security of the pack. Moreso than for any of the others, perhaps, the pack was her home.

She was the last of the setters. For as long as I had at least one of them, in some way I had them all, and when I lost her, I lost all of them. My house, my home, I know it is the place I have lived for 15 years, but it somehow seems alien to me now without them.

It has long been a life goal of mine to take care of all my setters for all of their lives, but it is certainly true that all the joy and value was in the doing, not in the having done.