Naming

Name them and they become yours. Think of your children, who are named even before they’re born. We name our cars, our books, our homes, our pets. When John and I lived in Kyoto, we inherited two lorikeets from the family next door, who were moving back to England. The birds were always making a ruckus, cooing or chattering to one another. We named them Billy and Cooey. Sometimes we’d leave their cage door open so they could fly around upstairs while we were gone. One day we accidentally left the window open and out they flew. Billy came back, but soon perished from lovesickness.

I love books about animals. Growing up in New England, I read all the Thornton Burgess stories. Reddy Fox, Sammy Jay, Billy Skunk were as real to me as my friends in school. When we moved to our grandparent’s farm, my sister and I spent weeks taming the barn cats and giving them secret names. I  still remember the day Pumpkin was run over. Nana lifted her off the road with a shovel and dropped her limp corpse in the ash pile. I watched from the upstairs window and wept at the unceremonious burial.

My friend, Doris Ober, has written a heartwarming book called The Dogtown Chronicles: Our Life and Times with Sheep, Goats, Llamas, and Other Creatures. Doris and her husband Richard populated their ten acres in this small California town with a menagerie of animals: a llama named Lloyd, a ewe named Little Lulu, Scottish Highland steer named Moe and Curly, geese called Mother Goose and Alger Hiss, and goats Mephisto and Isabella, among others. For Doris, born and raised in Manhattan, taking care of animals was a challenge. “Once I understood them, I loved them truly and deeply. This is a most selfless kind of love—love of sheep, love of goats—because understanding them means knowing deep down that they don’t love you. Not at all.” And we grieve with her when she says, “When they go, there goes part of you. Everything that was between the two of you, vanished.”

It is emotionally wrenching to lose an animal through separation or death. This is particularly true of dogs, with their unconditional love. Animals are intuitive. They sense our moods and our needs, sometimes even before we do. As Doris says “The grief we have for people who die is much different than what we feel for our pets—even for the people who have seen our true selves, as the dog and the cat and the horse have—because people are not silent, our love of them and theirs for us is conditional.”

When John and I moved out of the house that we’d rented for seventeen years, we also left behind our landlady’s Rhodesian ridgeback. Comet spent much of his time at our house; keeping me company as I gardened, sleeping on our porch on hot summer nights, romping and kicking up his heels in the pasture. He was always ready to jump into the back of John’s van for a hike, whether we were just walking locally in Tryon Creek park or setting out for an arduous hike in the Columbia River Gorge. Although we did not name Comet or own him, we felt that he was our dog. And he was—for awhile.

on the eve
of the Year of the Tiger
I dream about our dog
who we left behind
his eyes burning bright

Maggie and Comet

To see photos of the stars of Dogtown and to read more about The Dogtown Chronicles, go to www.dogtownchronicles.com

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