So in trawling around today for this and that I noted over in NROworld that a brief discussion had occured prompted by this post by John Derbyshire, aka the celebrity endorser of my Pi album. (Really!) As he notes, his family dog is sadly not long for the world and he looked for advice on how best to handle it so said beast painlessly passes in the surroundings he knew and loved best, which strikes me as a sound sentiment. Follow-up discussion led to a mention of a poem that he knew, but noted, “I find I can’t read very far into it right now.”
He’s not to be blamed — the poem is one by Rudyard Kipling, until now unfamiliar to me, but written in his best bluff-exterior-covering-a-sore-heart style, “The Power of the Dog.” The whole is worth a read, but to pull out the closing lines:
We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long–
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?
I find this, in its simply rhyming (but carefully constructed) way, a perfect summation of a welter of feelings and situations. The answer to the poem’s persistent question is answered in many different ways by dog owners and lovers — and the sentiments can and surely do apply in more generalized ways to other animals and those who appreciate them.
I have answered the question in my own way, having no dog or pet at all in my apartment (it would not be allowed in any event) and in fact having had no pet since I left for college twenty years back. Part of it is the matter of responsibility — I would not be able to provide it as I could on my own — and part of it is that issue of grief Kipling so aptly captures, that sad inevitability, which gets to me even (especially?) in fictional portrayals. (I have a sneaking suspicion that I would be extremely bent out of shape by what happens to the dog in I Am Legend, to give you an idea of how deep my feelings can run.) We’ve had family dogs at home for nearly all my life, though, and the current one, Lexie, is a treasure, I’ve always liked her. But she too is starting to age, and every time I see her now I wonder a bit if it will be for the last time. Not yet, I hope — but it cannot last forever.
Talking over love of animals, pets, what have you may seem like something only deserving of an Erma Bombeck column or the like, I’ve no idea. But I’ve never pretended not to be a sentimentalist, really, and the obvious has as much affect on me, and interest for me, as the subtle and long-considered. And so here on a day where work is a bit slower and I’m catching up on a variety of little things involving paperwork and the like, this brief mention of one family’s sad situation and someone’s response to similar from many years back doesn’t surprise me in making my thoughts turn towards such matters.
But on a different concluding note, let us also celebrate what that genius Ambrose Bierce had to say about dogs in his Devil’s Dictionary:
DOG, n. A kind of additional or subsidiary Deity designed to catch the overflow and surplus of the world’s worship. This Divine Being in some of his smaller and silkier incarnations takes, in the affection of Woman, the place to which there is no human male aspirant. The Dog is a survival –an anachronism. He toils not, neither does he spin, yet Solomon in all his glory never lay upon a door-mat all day long, sun-soaked and fly-fed and fat, while his master worked for the means wherewith to purchase the idle wag of the Solomonic tail, seasoned with a look of tolerant recognition.
He might have denied it, but that is the kind of snark that covers up an honest love, right down to the final words.