Is there anything more annoying than listening to new proud parents telling stories of their babies’ prowess? Possibly. It’s listening to people telling stories of their dogs’ prowess. Especially if you don’t have a dog. Or a child.
I am one of those annoying dog people. I will bristle and tense when hearing of little Andrew’s first word or poop but I will eagerly listen to sofagirl’s detailed explanations on Jack’s bowel problems. Jack being her terrier mix. And, of course, in my mind, my dogs Otello and Portia, are the brightest, funniest and most caring dogs on the planet. If you belong to the covenant of dog owners, I know you will recognize yourself. If you are dog free, you can stop reading now. Or you can leave an annoyed comment at the end of the post which I vow not to delete (barring any turpitudes or derogatory comments about MY particular dogs).
There is a whole host of literature, memoirs and assorted books and manuals about dogs, from Cesar Millan’s not so cottage industry on dog training to charming real life stories of loss and hope like A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas. In the US alone, we spend over $56 billion a year our little darlings.
As any dog owner knows, a canine companion – or two or three – can do wonders to one’s mood, they relieve loneliness and force us to exercise. And there is nothing better than being loved without ever being criticized or being asked to do much in return.
The poet Mary Oliver also belongs to the covenant of dog owners and has now written a book of poems on her canine friends, Dog Songs. Truth be told, it was her editor’s idea, probably seeing dollar sign at the thought of capturing a fraction of the dog market, but one she embraced wholeheartedly. Ms. Oliver’s poems are of the “easiest” kind: simple, short and direct. She has been chastised by critics for her apparent simplicity but, frankly, there is nothing like simplicity to sway a reader towards trying poetry.
Winner of the National Book Awards and Pulitzer Prize, Ms. Oliver might be America’s best selling poet. A contemporary Emily Dickinson, she is inspired by solitary walks in nature, often leading to observations that, in a few verses, would resonate with anyone. That is what I love about her. Her poem, A Pretty Song, is still one I pull out time and again, and reread just because.
Now I have one more reason to love her. She belongs to my covenant. I can listen to her telling me stories about her dogs – and they sound an awful lot like mine.
LITTLE DOG’S RHAPSODY IN THE NIGHT
He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough
he turns upside down, his four paws
in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.
Tell me you love me, he says.
Tell me again.
Could there be a sweeter arrangement?
Over and over
he gets to ask it.
I get to tell.