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 Carolyn Creedon.
—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief
I was raised in a chaotic household with many animals; my mother was a dog breeder. We always had at least one litter around us. I can remember our little pup Tripod with his proud three legs. I also remember my mother watching a pup birthed. He appeared lifeless and without breath. My mother calmly pre-heated the oven and put him in there. He came out gasping a few minutes later. We nursed him to health, though he was always the little guy—the runt, but tough.
In my adult life, my then-boyfriend of eleven years and I led a transitory, school-seeking lifestyle, so about five years ago when I was aching for a dog, he was trepidatious. I can remember touring the cages at the wonderful Charlottesville ASPCA. The eyes of the dogs and cats were heartbreaking, as anyone who’s been to a shelter can tell you.
There were treats outside of every animal’s cage. We stopped by one cage with a sleepy cocker mix-it-up breed inside of it. I held out a treat. She didn’t want it. Instead, she reached out her head for me to nuzzle and scratch between the steel bars. The kid craved affection. When we took her for a walk, we weren’t sure. She seemed twice the size of what we could handle in our apartment.
Still, the next day, I woke to tell my boyfriend, “Let’s get our girl.” She had a wild and beautiful mane, so we called her Medusa, to the clucking of the SPCA director, who, knowing better, said, “You’ll end up shortening that name!” Once we got her home, we had a shampoo and haircutting session, after a few days for her to relax. There on the deck lay the cut hairs that were about the size of the dog! Dusie (that’s right, the director was spot on) had shrunk.
My husband and I fell in love with her and, because of Dusie, more with each other. I am convinced to this day that Dusie is why he proposed to me shortly thereafter. Oh sure, he had mumbled something about taxes being easier, but I know he wanted to seal our little family.
A year ago on March 29, I was in a deep sleep on a pillow on the floor of our apartment. My husband was thankfully out. I awoke to a frantic yet incantatory barking in my face. I opened my eyes to see the drapes, and in fact the whole apartment, on fire. Something electrical had happened, the marshall later told us.
I got myself up, very groggy from the smoke, as Dusie barked, “Let’s go! Let’s go.” I was trying to open the door to the bedroom, but the knob was burning hot, and there was black smoke everywhere. I couldn’t breathe. Dusie kept barking—I’d call it yelling— and running up to the front door then back. In my daze I opened it up and she went dashing out. I was able to get out.
I don’t know how long it was in my fog, but I was being administered oxygen. A tall, gleaming, handsome, and brilliant (okay, I hadn’t my glasses, but how could he not be?) firefighter opened the back of the ambulance. He said, “I believe this belongs to somebody in here.” And there she was, in his arms. The amazing EMTs actually allowed her in, where she scampered over and gave me wet kisses.
The newspapers got it wrong. They said the apartment was deserted. I guess that’s right, because Dusie got us out. But she still wears a battle scar on her back from the flying debris. No hair will ever grow on it. And when my husband got home to a burning building and found the both of us nestled in the back of a Red Cross truck, he was thankful our little family was still, more or less, intact. We lost just about everything in the fire, and we retained more than we knew we had.
Carolyn Creedon is a writer, editor, and fifteen-year veteran of the waitress wars. She completed the Ada Comstock program at Smith College, went on to earn an M.A., then to UVA where she earned an M.F.A. and was the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize. Her poems have been published in the Massachusetts Review, American Poetry Review, Best New Poets, Best of the Best American Poets, Ploughshares, Yale Review, Rattle, and other journals. In 2010 she won the Alehouse Happy Hour Poetry Prize. Her book Wet was selected as the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize, sponsored by the Wick Poetry Center and published in 2012 by Kent State University Press. She lives in Charlottesville with her husband and her dog.