We call her Duchess the Wonder Dog. Usually as in “I wonder what that dog is thinking.”
Take the old game of fetch.
When an object is thrown past Duchess with the words “Go get it!”, one of three results is guaranteed to occur:
- Duchess watches the object like Troy Tulowitzki watching an outside pitch. “Huh? Was I supposed to be interested in that?”
- Duchess goes calmly over to it and takes possession … and that’s it. “What? You want it back? Why’d you get rid of it, then?”
- Duchess takes off after it like the house was on fire, running back forth for about two or three minutes with high acceleration and hard braking. “Vroomvroomvroomvroomscreech ….!”
What she doesn’t do, most times, is keep up the game. Not even after six years with us.
I’m not really complaining. She’s a lovely and loving dog who’s come a long way. At some point in the three years before we got her, she was neglected at the least, abused at the worst. People (except for kids) were something scary for a long time; strangers still make her a little nervous until she knows them better.
A lot of old wounds have mended. But abuse doesn’t just injure. It steals.
And I think it stole some of Duchess’s ability to have fun without reservation.
Not all of it. There’s still a freedom that peeks out when she runs, a joy that escapes when she’s in the mountains. (Duchess grew up a Kansas dog, so the high country remains something of a wonder to her.) But so often it needs the right moment or a bit of coaxing.
Or a rabbit.
Duchess discovered rabbits while we were still in Kansas, where a small family lived beneath a backyard bush. Despite her being half-retriever, she didn’t really know what to do at first. Dog and prey backed up to each other like figures in a Warner Brothers cartoon, noticed each other and then dashed away, startled.
She soon got the idea.
Trips to the backyard tripled in length as she had to sniff every corner, explore every crop of greenery, dash after each long-eared shadow. Squirrels didn’t really interest her (much to the regret of our bird feeder), she wanted a real chase.
There haven’t been any rabbits since moving back here.
I think we’ve all felt the lack.
That, too, was part of her healing.
Duchess loves. And Duchess knows she’s loved. That’s big. She’s become fiercely devoted to us and to Heather especially.
But she still carries her marks. She still has that slight flinch before a pat. That occasional uncertainty before a game.
Just five minutes with the people who did this. That’s all I want.
Well, not all. I want them to understand how long cruelty can scar, how deeply thoughtlessness can rend. I want them to see just how many consequences there are to a callous act, many of them unexpected.
I want them to see how much love can mend. And how much time it takes. Burning down has always been easier than building up; I want them to know the labor they’ve made necessary.
Most of all, I want them to realize. To learn that lesson Kurt Vonnegut considered most vital: how to be kind. To animals. To people. To anyone and anything that crosses your path.
It’s that kindness that will someday make this world a wonder.
And maybe then, all the Duchesses of the world will be ready to go play.