The bad dog

You really can't choose who you love

She never really liked me. She was my wife’s dog from before I knew her, a rangy street mutt from St. Kitt’s who looked like a cross between a pointer and a whippet (many people guessed greyhound, especially when they’d seen her run). When I first arrived on the scene there was also a German Shepherd, a formerly abused rescue, who when I met her wanted to bite me; for a while whenever I spoke sweetly to her she would lower her head and show her teeth, just a little, very discreetly like a spiv giving a warning glimpse of his blade. In time the Shepherd came to love me and rub on me and demand my attention and try and get me to share such excitements as she found. But Sweetie never did any of that, and appeared only to want two things from me: the butler services she seemed to think I had been hired to perform, and my humiliation.

Sweetie was the tricksiest dog I’ve ever seen. It was her pleasure to evade instruction or capture, however well it was meant. If a walk was terminated before she was ready — and she had ferocious energy for walks when she was younger, she could literally go for miles — she would not only sulk but resist, planting herself firmly on the spot, pulling back at every tug on the leash, hardly bothering to do you the honor of a backward glance to see what you thought of that; she had to be physically steered toward home, and even then every few yards she’d blithely pretend we were going in a different direction, affect indignation when we made plain that we did not share her view, and have to be wrestled back on course. We frequently gave up and let her go her way.

She also liked to get loose — not because she disliked us (well, not both of us) but just out of what my wife (who is also Caribbean) called “shit-assedness.” We lost, in my time with her, about a dozen leashes to her chewing through them. She much preferred escape by deception, though. The first time she pulled that on me, I was walking her with the Shepherd, who was fat and slow, and I wondered why Sweetie was hanging back. I looked at her and tugged to get her to come up, and I really believe she feigned acquiescence as a stratagem, because no sooner had she hurried her step and I turned away but that she fell back again, making me again tug the leash — which over time and repetition worked her collar far enough past her neck that she could finally back up suddenly and slip it and, the second she had done so, run like blazes in the opposite direction. In terror that she’d be hit by a car I chased her for ten minutes before she’d had enough and lay in a submissive posture on someone’s lawn, which turned away wrath or at least any excuse for it.

My wife, who had rescued Sweetie from Caribbean street life (which, you may have heard, is no bed of roses for dogs), enjoyed her japes for the most part, and sometimes I did — particularly when Sweetie pulled them on her. One time I watched Sweetie get loose of her in the back yard and run into the alley; my wife marched after her, adopting a commanding tone, which seemed to inspire Sweetie to terpsichore. I haven’t mentioned that in addition to running and standing fast Sweetie could mince and canter in ways clearly meant to mock her human companions. This day when my wife chastised her Sweetie pranced like a show pony and occasionally threw her head back, letting her tongue loll. She was laughing at her.

But I confess I sometimes found Sweetie’s antics tiresome because I knew, while she teased my wife with real affection, she teased me mainly because she could. I wasn’t jealous exactly — in fact I admired the depth and strength of their bond, and there is nothing in the world so warming as the light of true love in the eyes of a dog, even when it’s not directed at you. But I have to say that, seeing as it wasn’t directed at me, I was a little resentful that I had to feed and clean up after her, especially when the big loving Shepherd passed on, taking her dumb sweetness with her.

That changed in Sweetie’s decline. I don’t mean that I lost my resentment, because I’m no saint and, as her long illness made her harder to care for — her messes more random, her vet visits and pillings and collapses and manic episodes more frequent, her feeding eventually done by hand, till keeping her alive was a literal struggle — I couldn’t help feeling put-upon and hard-used. But, churl though I am, I knew that I was put-upon and hard-used by life, or God (that fuck), not by poor Sweetie, who may have felt indignation at having to accept the intimate care of such as I but if she did she had the grace not to show it.

I also knew that I loved her. I loved her without reason, the way I know people do all the time but which I had been able, through my own shit-assedness, to evade in this life except in very rare cases. I had thought that Sweetie never gave me anything but some amusement and a hard time, but I found, cleaning her shit off her fur in the back yard and watching her shuffle disconsolately into the sun to dry, that she had given me someone to love with no hope of love in return, and that for reasons I still can’t understand I was yet grateful for.

Who knows, though; maybe without my knowing it she felt the same way about me.

Yesterday we came to the inevitable. My wife is a wreck, understandably. I don’t understand completely why I am, too, if less observably. It is something to discover in my old age there are still mysteries into which I can be initiated by life and love.