HOME ARCHIVE [previous][next]
Why I Kick My Dog by Shya Scanlon

08/16/2009

I love my dog. She’s a little Blue Heeler, a runt, and she couldn’t be cuter or in possession of a sweeter disposition. She was a rescue—I got her from a rescue agency specializing in Heelers—who’d been living on the streets of Montreal. Picture postcard perfect Montreal! I’ve only been to Montreal once, but I just can’t imagine her running around, begging from tourists at sidewalk cafes. It’s too beautiful a place, and Amy too beautiful a dog, for this mental picture. Yet it was probably the case.
     When I got her, she was still quite young—six months—and since she’d been a stray she didn’t have any training, so I got a book about how to house-train your pet, and another on how to crate-train them. Ultimately, I decided against crate training, despite all I’ve read about how it appeals to dogs, how much they enjoy small, enclosed spaces. I just couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Amy alone all day in a cage big enough only for her to stand and to turn and to lie back down. But the house training had to be done.
     Fortunately, she was a quick study. Blue Heelers are a notoriously smart breed—one of the reasons I wanted one—and Amy more than lived up to this reputation. It would be no exaggeration to say she had only to be scolded a few times before figuring it out. Now she stands sweetly at the door when she needs to go, though I rarely keep her cooped up long enough for this to happen. She absolutely loves to play, so in addition to the shorter walks, I religiously take her to the dog park a few blocks from my house no fewer than twice a day.
     The dog park is a peculiar community of folks. We all have something incredibly important in common, but other than that, we’re so obviously different we rarely bother to learn one another’s names. Oh, there’s the obligatory hand shaking upon our first encounter, but thereafter it’s our animals who take center stage, and more often than not, eventually greeting someone’s dog passes for greeting them. I never thought I’d know so many dogs by name.
     I first kicked Amy by accident. I was watching something on television—I remember exactly: it was a Matlock episode wherein a stripper ends up as the prime suspect after her ex-husband is shot—and I was standing just outside my kitchen, because I had some soup on the stove. Well, the lid of the soup pot began to rattle, and I turned quickly to race in and turn off the burner and in the process walked right into Amy, who’d been there at my feet without my knowing.
     For those of you with Heelers, you know they’re always underfoot. It’s just part of their herding blood. No matter how often I’ve tripped over Amy, though, I still can’t get myself to look where I’m going. Too many years walking, I guess. Most of the time it’s just a light stumble, and I take the power out of it by heaving my body forward over her. But on this particular occasion, I didn’t simply trip; my foot swung around into something like a punt, and got her right in the ribs. It was a kick. An unintentional kick, but a kick nonetheless.
     I’ll never forget that sharp, high-pitched whine, or the way she cowered, her ears folding back and looking up at me with an expression—I know this is somewhat anthropomorphic, but there it was—bordering on awe. It was as if she were impressed. I was of course a little rattled, and I stood there stunned, telling Amy I was sorry over and over until the pot’s lid brought me back to the task I’d left unfinished.
     Five minutes later, I brought my soup into the living room for the tail end of Matlock (he was telling a joke in court: “One time a woman went into a barroom with a duck under her arm. The bartender walks over and says, ‘Where did you get the pig?’ and the woman says, ‘It’s a duck,’ and the bartender says, ‘I was talking to the duck.’”) I blew on my soup, which had boiled, and looked down to see Amy, right at my feet like nothing had happened. But of course something had happened, something had almost imperceptibly but irrevocably changed between us. How can I explain it? She is not allowed on the furniture, but she stared up at me with the look in her eyes she gave me after the kick, and jumped up on the couch to sit in my lap, in clear defiance of the rule she knows well. There was such energy in her then! She was risking punishment to express something, to show me how much she loved me. It was the most tender moment I’d ever shared with her, with anyone. I was moved. I let her stay.

----------
Shya Scanlon is serializing his novel FORECAST across 42 different online journals and blogs. Follow along by visiting shyascanlon.com/forecast

[previous] [next]