Old Dog

By Kathryn DeChairo

By Kathryn DeChairo

Old Dog

First hard frost
and when I take you out to the ice-furred grass,
you stand stock still
as you always do these days,
then edge blindly towards the side of a stone step,
nudging away from collision only just
as I bend down–all normal enough
for the now you–

until after taking your next stance,
you begin to heave, something newish,
torso jerking in waves of disjoint
that bring up nothing,
and there is nothing I can do
but wait until you’re still again, then pick you up
so that my fingers do not interlace your ribs, at least not
with pressure,
and hold you in the folds of my nightgown, which I realize
from the sensation of sleeved seam
against my cheeks
I’ve put on inside-out
in the rushed near-darkness–

Hours later, I wonder whether that was comforting,
the flannel worn next to my skin
smelling more of me
than the patterned side,
and think how rare it is
to have a well-adjusted being in one’s life
who actually seeks out
one’s smells–

But at dawn I think only of your trembling
trust, and worry, as I carry you,
about how mute you’ve become,
though you still manage to communicate so well, I keep
telling myself, the way we know
each other–

My husband scrapes a porthole in the windshield,
leaning towards me as he drives
to peer through. Taking me to the station,
and we talk of what, next, how, until
as my tears run into
the roar of the defroster, he reaches from the wheel
to pat my leg, which is when, I realize,
that we truly speak,
at least, understand–


Here’s a draftish poem – I’ve cut a lot that maybe should be put back, and put back stuff that maybe should be cut–for a With Real Toads challenge hosted by the very talented Canadian poet, Grace,  and featuring the art work of Kathryn Dyche Dechairo.    The above is a painting (or mixed media piece) by Dechairo, called “Barren.”

Those who follow this blog will know that the old dog in the poem is Pearl, 18, who is actually doing pretty well (for 18).  This was written about a not-great morning, but it is not, thankfully, every morning.

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26 Comments on “Old Dog”

  1. hedgewitch Says:

    Yes, the comfort of smells is tangible, even to us with our weak noses. This is a very evocative and rich portrait of relationship, of those interconnections of the best parts of ourselves that love and tenderness provide. Many hugs to Pearl–I have two getting-older dogs myself, and often feel their increasing fragility and my own need to give back to them however I can as they have given to me, as you express so beautifully here. Love the last few lines, especially.

  2. Grace Says:

    Very moving and heart felt K ~ I can feel your despair in trying to comfort her and being able to communicate with her (as she is mute /older dog) ~ The ending scene with the husband, brings a satisfaction to your reflections ~ We find comfort with a pat or a touch, no words are necessary with loved ones (be with another person or pet ) ~

    Thanks for linking up with Sunday’s Challenge K ~ Have a lovely week ahead ~

  3. We communicate not only with words, but smells and touches, how important to have the loved one around…Nice writing

  4. This is a real tear-jerker for me, Karin. The love of an old dog is heartbreaking – they trust us to know when the time has come. I think the fragile ribs is what did me in here.

  5. Your poem definitely touched me. I know your dog is 18 but don’t we all wish our pets (friends, really) to live longer? A very beautiful and poignant poem.

    Greetings from London.

  6. Helen Dehner Says:

    An animal lover (I am) will get all teared up reading your poem.

  7. kaykuala Says:

    Such a moving episode and a sad one! The strange thing is they know when the time comes. Nicely K!


  8. our kitty is 12. had surgery this summer. it’s been difficult witnessing her decline. worse, is seeing how my stoic DH insist he’s okay. he’s not and i don’t push. i allow him the space to grieve and let go in his own way. your write is poetic and real. tender.

  9. It is profound how deeply we connect to our animals. This speaks of such an amazing relationship and what is striking to me is the communication between you and your sweet Pearl that then switches to communication between you and your husband…this is emotive and skillfully written. 🙂

  10. Wow, I could feel the emotion just pouring from the piece. Brought me close to tears. As an owner of four pets I know what an integral part of the family they become and how unconditional the love is. It’s hard to watch anyone or anything you love get old and face the possibility of their passing. Love that you have such a comforting husband, I have one of those too. :0) Hugs xoxo

  11. This just wrenches me–I can so feel this one–mine is 11 and starting to decline into old age–I have asked the universe for one more good year–and for me–like Kerry, it was the fragile ribs–

  12. brian miller Says:

    mmm…hard…emotional for sure…having lost our older cat back around christmas, losing a pet is tough they are family…before she died though trying to care for her, it was heartbreaking….

  13. Oh Karin, this tore me apart. I’ve been through that…too often and too recently to not bring up pain. When we had to put down our first dog, my sister supported me so much reminding me that they let us know what they need, and when. (At the time we didn’t know it, but my sister had Stage IV cancer and died 4 weeks later.) The detail about the night gown really crafted the emotional impact so poignantly. My thoughts are with you and sweet Pearl.

  14. By the way, I wrote a poem titled “Old Dog” for that first little one we had to let go. Hmmm.

  15. Susan Chast Says:

    Yes. Fragile at 18, still tail-wagging with joy at your presence and certainly comforted by the familiar smells of you and outdoors simultaneously– I’m the same way with my 18 year old kitty–tho I put her in her box and not outside. I leave clothes on the bed and couch for her to curl up on. I love how you draw this relationship into the environment with other relationships.

  16. isadoragruye Says:

    Wow Karin, this was absolutely stunning. You’ve taken the broad concept of an aging “pet”–most people will tell you pets are more like family members than animals–and made it really intimate and very interesting. Well done and viva la

  17. Ellen Says:

    My hound is starting to show more and more signs of being fragile. It is so hard to see-your poem made me feel the intensity and the dance of closeness between us and our pets~ The tenderness in your poem is so touching!

  18. grapeling Says:

    tender, K, and for an incomplete, I’ll say it’s a fine write

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks. You know i had more “philosophical” things and other back and forth. I’ve been traveling all day and just got to destination so thought maybe I posted too early to get it done, plus feel terrible have returned no visits, but will try now. k.

  19. Kay Davies Says:

    Heartbreaking, Karin, and we’re beginning a similar journey. Lindy is losing her eyesight, sometimes she missteps, sometimes she turns the wrong way, right here in the house. I’m right there with you, Karin, in my thoughts.

  20. gabrielle Says:

    Please don’t alter a thing in this piece. It’s so achingly raw and speaks so honestly to the profound bond that grows between four and two leggeds. So much tenderness throughout, but what really got to me was your “rushed” inside out night gown and the comfort of your scent.

  21. Comforted by so many things we often don’t notice until they are not there. Such a gentle piece about the not so great morning of this loved pet. In the midst of it we learn communication is often not through words…beautiful

  22. David King Says:

    Yes, indeed, language is not necessary for understanding, nor speech for language. I remember a sixth form debate on this, on which was the flower and which was the fruit. Sounds sterile, but at the time it made a big impression.

  23. Few things are more worthy of complete love than the animal, that insatiable friend who loves us not only without reason, but without boundary. I certainly felt that here k…. I’m not sure what was left in your poem as opposed to what was left out, but this works amazingly well as is….

  24. Theresa Says:

    So very touching – so much emotion and love and caring, only to be understood by someone else who loves their pet. Beautiful homage to getting older and the unconditional love which only deepens.

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