My Dog, Myself; Myself, My Dog
Those of you who read the monthly commentaries may have noticed that I finally replaced the picture. Aside from the previous picture being so out-dated it came dangerously close to violating truth in advertising laws, this particular picture has a story behind it that continues to haunt me. It all began when I needed a photograph to accompany a series of articles I write for a veterinary journal. As luck would have it, the weather was brutally hot and humid and the first photo session ended in a pictureless disaster. However, it did include one photo I treasure in which Watson the hound yawns in a face-scrinching manner that pretty much summed up all of our feelings.
Meanwhile the clock continued ticking and I still needed a photo. A few days later I asked my son, Dan, to try his hand at this mission impossible. By this time I'd accepted that, although a photo with multiple dogs might communicate more about my oneness with animals than a photo with just one, Watson had no intention of getting sucked into another session and the cat had vanished completely. That left Violet the Wonderdog who, while she may not particularly enjoy the task, would never let me down.
Alas, while Violet didn't let me down, her physiology did. At thirteen and a half, the once clear lenses of her eyes had become cloudy. This led to greater dilation of her pupils and that led to major red-eye marring all the photos. Meanwhile, time marched on.
Initially Dan thought that he could use computer magic to create young dog eyes in that beloved old dog head. But no matter what he did, the results always looked fake. Finally he sent me the picture you see on my home page and asked me what I thought. I thought she looked wonderful, told him so, and fired the picture off to the journal. Somewhere along the line I learned the truth: Dan had replaced Violet's eyes with mine.
Once I got beyond yet another truth-in-advertising dilemma, the idea of my eyes in Vi's head resulted in all kinds of thoughts regarding our relationship and the human-animal bond in general. The first thing that came to mind was a line from Henry Beston's profound thoughts about animals: "In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and more complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained..." (The entire quotation appears in the Archive)
Although what Beston says is certainly true, it's also true that, as Violet's own senses have weakened with age, I've stepped in to take up the slack for her. When she was younger, I adored taking the dogs out before sunrise and last thing at night. While they wandered around doing their doggy things, I would stargaze, listen to the calls of nocturnal animals and river sounds, relish the scents drifting from my gardens and the woods around the house. Put another way, even though the dogs and I occupied the same piece of land, we all functioned independently because we all could.
Now I always turn on the light when I go out so Vi can see the stairs, as well as find her way in the white-on-white world of a New Hampshire winter or the black-on-black world the rest of the year. I don't stargaze or daydream; I don't orient toward other scents, sounds, or any other sensory input until I know that she's safe. She, in turn, orients much more toward me than she used to in the past. Her eyes are on me because I have become her backup eyes. I am her Service Person.
Although it wouldn't take much to send me off on some romantic tangent about the two of us becoming one in some metaphysical way, what I so loveand respectabout Violet is her dogged determination to hang on to her own identify and integrity at the same time. Two weeks after that picture was taken, she underwent emergency surgery for a large mass that suddenly appeared on her spleen. As best we can tell, it was a benign hematoma rather than the far more serious hemangiosarcoma. Seemingly overnight, she went from the dog you see here to an old dog-lady. The temptation to become her everything rather than just her eyes seemed impossible as well as utterly wrong to resist when I brought her home with about 8" of staples in her abdomen.
Had Violet not taken matters into her own hands, God only know how much of an invalid I would have turned her into as I came to grips with the fact that she wouldn't be with me forever. About a week after her surgery, I took the dogs out as usual. As usual I opened the door, then turned to flip on the outside light. Unlike other nights, however, this time the cat looked up at me in horror and flew down the basement stairs while Watson plastered himself to the back of my legs. Violet, on the other hand, shot outside barking and snarling ferociously, scaring the wits out of a black bear at the feeder less than 15' from the house, and chasing him out of the yard. While I stood there trying to a) get my stopped heart beating again, and b) stop crying (I like to think for menopausal reasons but probably because the scene so shocked me), Violet daintily mark the edges of the yard, came back into the house, and picked up her rubber bone for me to toss.
The message was clear: I am her eyes but she is not a projection of me and my beliefs. Like all animals she has her own species agenda which, with a lot of work and a little luck, I can learn to recognize and respect as she must mine. We're a unit, and a damn good one I like to think, but we each stand alone, too.
Like any good couple, Violet and I have a solid relationship because our differences compliment rather than antagonize us. Being Violet's eyes isn't easy for either one of us but thanks to the bond we've forged over the years, we muddle through with a certain amount of joy and dignity. For her, it means gracefully accepting living in a world I define to some extent, which might be far different and diminished compared to the one she experienced on her own. For me, a supposedly top-of-the-species-pyramid human, it means sometimes being more than I think I can be. That I somehow thus far have managed to do this makes me even more grateful to her.
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