All Creatures Great and Small
It has been nearly one year since the passing of Winston the Wonder Dog and Willy Boots the Wonder Goat. They were mine for 10 and 2 years respectively, and I was lucky for that time. Their memory is seared forever in this place, their presence still lurking. I heard a splash in the pond yesterday, and saw Winston’s form happily flail across the water before realizing it was only Junebug cavorting with the turtles. Last week I was certain Willy had returned to lounge against a snoozing Pyrenees as he always did, on top of the crooked old picnic table, but then saw Dixie lift her head and blink at me for a head pat. It’s not that they return, exactly, it’s that they never leave. It’s the greatest comfort I can find some times, some days.
This morning, my very smallest statured, and very biggest hearted dog of all, Hugo, appeared on the porch after chores. He looked puny and forlorn, wilted against the house. It wasn’t until he turned, and I saw blood from his neck, that I knew something had gone horribly awry in the 30 minutes since I’d last seen him. He screamed against my touch and then went limp as I carried him inside for further inspection. Although it could have been coyote, I suspect he wriggled through the fence that separates us from the neighbor’s 6 or so dogs of assorted sizes and temperaments, chose the losing side of someone else’s battle. Came home in defeat. We spent the afternoon at the emergency vet clinic, this being Sunday, of course, and since the nature of his injuries grew more alarming as the day wore on. The prognosis is not bleak but not really defined. He is there overnight. And I find myself one year later carrying that helpless burden of worry and retreat. Our motto: Hope for the best, expect the worst – echoes through a house empty and silent this evening when it’s usually filled with Hugo. Our house can usually, barely contain him.
At the clinic today we watched a family circle through the inevitable cycle of choice: they brought in a sick dog, their options were sparse, their decision was final. We heard them speak with the staff, watched them file into a room, leave tearfully and then…Then we saw the most amazing spectacle. The entire family stood together under the blazing Texas sun, huddled in a group hug in the middle of a steaming parking lot. They hugged and cried, wiped tears that turned to laughter. They stood together bonded over the soul and memory of a dog. That is the depth of meaning animals carry for so many of us.
Tonight I came home and made a stiff drink, because sometimes that heals what ails us, too. I carried it out into a pasture filled with creatures who know nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the ongoing turmoil in Ferguson, the price of gas, the threat of climate change. All they know is them and me. And the weather. These creatures embody the basic tenants of Life that get buried in the media and pace of this world and those are: food, sex, love, and death. Maybe not in that order, but still. The world has and will forever turn around these facts, each one the basis of art and war since the beginning of the beginning. I forget that sometimes, don’t you? If not for the animals, their needs so primal it’s writ large across screaming faces, I might never remember. Sometimes I think I owe them everything. Tonight I know I do.
Most specifically, this is a love letter to Hugo who has the soul of a cowboy, the heart of a lion, who aspires to be the best at everything. We would all do better to be a little more like you, sir, and no matter how this chapter ends, your story is permanent here, just like every other paw, claw, and hoof that’s imprinted on this place, through my head, across my heart.
Hug your beasts tonight, tomorrow, every day and thank them for the little reminders they give us about the most important things.