The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and since then I have also invited other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets. Today, please enjoy this essay by Enid Shomer.
—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief
Because a large portion of my spine is fused, for the last nineteen years I have owned service dogs. Currently, I live with a seven-and-a-half-pound Papillon named Mink. Her job is to retrieve things on the floor or otherwise out of my reach. She even jumps into the clothes dryer to fetch stray socks.
When my doctor and his wife offered to watch her for several days so that I could travel to teach in a low-residency MFA program, I agreed. But I was nervous. I had planned to take her with me. But at her annual check up, a week earlier, I learned she was developing kidney and bladder stones and needed a radical change in diet. I had never left her in strange quarters. On the few occasions I’d traveled without her, she’d stayed at home with a sitter. Mink is my only live-in companion, and I didn’t know the Smiths well.
Several days before my trip, I took her to visit them. Mrs. Smith is a warm enthusiastic woman who immediately put Mink on her lap and found the sweet spot on her belly. Their pet, Savvy, is a mellow Bengal housecat I’d met before in my physician’s waiting room. But Mink turned out to be terrified of him and trembled during the entire 45-minutes under his green-eyed scrutiny. After the cat reached out and gently pawed her twice, she began to pant and drool. The Smiths assured me he had lived with a small dog and was harmless. Can a dog die from shaking? I wondered. Would she have a heart attack?
I dropped her off the night before my trip. She happily greeted the Smiths, wagging her tail and licking their hands. They had thoughtfully quarantined the cat for the evening in an upstairs bedroom.
Nevertheless, driving home, I reviewed my fears. Mink had never lived with anyone else. Would she adjust or would she cry pitifully? Would her new diet make her sick? Would she be able to negotiate the Smiths’ steep staircase or would her loose kneecap begin to act up? I felt miserable as I packed for my trip, convinced something terrible would befall her.
Busy with panels, student conferences, readings and talks, the four days passed quickly. In a free moment, I nervously dialed Mrs. Smith. She reported, to my relief, a détente with the cat. Mink had stood her ground when he tried to investigate her food and was no longer afraid of him.
On Sunday afternoon, I drove over to retrieve my darling. In the parlor, the dog and cat, inches apart, eyeballed each other. They were becoming pals, I realized.
The Smiths regaled me with Mink stories, referring to her unselfconsciously as “Puppy Love,” “Baby Love,” “Fluffy Puffy Love,” and “Miss Petunia,” their voices altered as if they’d inhaled helium. The doctor showed me pictures of his wife in bed with Mink propped on pillows behind her head. Though I got a big greeting from Mink, she had clearly adapted, perhaps even enjoying the changes. Maybe she thought it was summer camp. However, since my return, she is more at my heels than ever, tracking me from room to room.
A widely published fiction writer and poet, Enid Shomer is the author of seven books, most recently the novel The Twelve Rooms of the Nile (Simon & Schuster, 2012, published globally in English). Her work has been collected in more than fifty anthologies and textbooks, including POETRY: A Harper Collins Pocket Anthology, Best American Poetry, and New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best.