Thanks to a dog

I like to think that Polly and I chose each other fifteen years ago when we met. Considering the litter, I was drawn by her colouring and sweetly curious nature. Perhaps she recognised in me the answer to her own nervous excitability. We soon found that she had a very big voice: at eight weeks, every bark blew her backwards over the floor by an inch or two.

Still young, Polly delivered a litter of outlandish pups on R’s birthday. She was a devoted but dejected mother and the day the last pup left home she leaped from her milky bed and back into her own prolonged puppyhood. She only ever wanted to be my companion.

Photo by Christine Dalley

Her life was uncomplicated, punctuated here and there by my absences and one horrible incident. Polly had always shown ridiculous aggression towards big black dogs and men in black, but her greatest fear was of Weimaraners with their sleek pelts and piercing green eyes (one lived next door and a quiet chat with its owner was never possible if we met out walking). One day the nor-west was howling through, felling branches, when we came upon two strange dogs, one, as it turned out, a Weimaraner. Polly smelt danger and fled into the bush. Silent as stealth, the dogs followed and I did, too. Down in the gully, she was screaming. They’d rolled her in leaf-litter and the black brute was shaking her as if she were a mouthful of moss. I heard myself roar, a deep, primeval bellow that made the dog throw up his head. He recalled the century and that he was no longer a wolf.

I clasp her; frail with fright
she is momentarily lighter
then back it comes, her full weight
and the wet-iron smell of blood.

The years slid by. Children left home. Polly’s favourite places on earth were Naseby in the Maniototo and the beach at Doctors’ Point — as long as I was there, or one of her mother substitutes.

Last summer she developed a skin irritation where the dog once punctured her. By the time we had it biopsied, she also had another cancer. The vet suggested we might have two more months.

And so we did. Right on the transit of Venus Polly turned fifteen. We celebrated with her in the snow above Akaroa. Two days later it became clear her life was almost spent so I made the appointment with Atropos and her merciful syringe.

Dog is love.

She’s buried where the beehive was, beneath a circle of Polly-anthus and spring bulbs.

Polly has flown back to the great dog-spark in the sky where it’s perpetually rubbish day on a beach edged with rabitty tussocks and freshened by a keen spring wind.

13 responses to “Thanks to a dog”

  1. Thanks, Prue. Yes, we learn to be good to one another and dogs never stop showing us how.

    Thanks to you, too, Kay. She was a sweet dog. I was very lucky.

  2. A beautiful tribute to Polly. What an adorable little dog she looks. I never had the pleasure of meeting her ‘cept through your words, but because you write so exquisitely well, I feel I have met her in a way. RIP sweet Polly and I hope Pen that all the treasured memories of Polly will be of deep comfort.

  3. Doggies… Such undemanding creatures they are. But also so willing to be the tail wagging the human when that human doesn’t have the willpower to go on walkies alone. I’m sure you gave yours a good life, Penelope. And making sure all sentient beings have a good life is pretty much what it’s all about, isn’t it?

  4. Claire, I agree it’s too easy to revisit that final decision and wonder whether a few more days mightn’t have been gained (but for whom?) and whether ‘natural’ death mightn’t have been preferable (this insistence that we euthanase a mindset in itself). Thanks for your words and who knows if Polly won’t poke her nose in once or twice more in the future?

  5. Melissa, you write as one who knows. You’re right in saying that our animals know us in ways no human does; by that standard we love them in return imperfectly, but they accept every bit that we offer. Thank you for your words and yes, the tears come as some kind of blessing.

  6. It’s very difficult – in many ways – to lose a dog. Please don’t do as it’s so easy to do: give yourself a hard time about whether “the timing was right”.

    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful tribute with the rest of us, and for the Pollyphony that you’ve brought by allowing her to poke her nose(and more) into your blog on various occasions.

  7. Dearest Pen, You’ve written a beautiful, loving, tender essay about your very own special Polly–my heart goes out to you. But it speaks to all of us who have or have had deeply-loved animals for companions. There is nothing to replace the bond that comes into evolves in sharing a life over so many years. Our critters love us unconditionally, know us in ways no human is intuitive enough to see, close as we are to our friends. What’s natural in a beloved dog is a cherishing of you, as you cherish them. Their playfulness, their capacity for happiness, the way they will defend you with their lion-sized hearts, no matter their own actual size. And when the time comes to be with them lovingly and help them through into the next station is a privilege. Polly was a very lucky dog, so completely adored. And how lucky you were, Penelope, to have had your Polly right by your side for all that time. The tears that come now will be her gift to you, but you may not know it for a while. xo

  8. Claire, I’m sure she counted you as one of my limbs.

    And, John, Polly was always overjoyed to have you visit.

    Izzy, thank you for loving words. Polly loved the scent of rabbits. She never managed to follow one to the source, but I’m sure she would have befriended rather than bitten the bun if she had.

  9. dearest pen & polly…my heart is filled with the sweetest sorrow of a love so truly lived. may both hearts rest well having known the love of the other. it has reached the other side of the world & touched me & my love as well. may the bittersweet void be filled with the kind care & thoughts of new friends & sweet bunnies who if they could, would give you warm nuzzles & tight, tight hugs. xo

  10. Oh Pen – am awash with tears. What a precious pal Poll was; your homage to her so honoring of her.

    She will continue to accompany us on beach walks and car trips and tumbles in the snow. xo