I came home a little early today, because it’s the longest Annie’s been on her own—about 7 hours—and I wanted to make sure neither she nor the house were in turmoil. Except for another visit from the Shoe Fairy, all was in order, and we immediately went for a nice walk/jog in the humid 86 degree afternoon. She heeled SO well—she’s at like 90%, just a little rocky when we start, and when there are other dogs around—and when we got back she got a treat and plenty of praise. I felt so proud of her, so impressed by her sweetness, her intelligence and adaptability. What a good damn dog.
I went upstairs to change out of my sweat-sticky clothes, my motley shadow loping along behind me. A Star Wars sneaker—one of the ones I illustrated myself wearing for this website’s header—was still lying in the hall, and Annie sort of feinted at it; I told her, sternly, “No,” and she moved off.
“Okay,” I said, “listen. We need to have a talk about the shoes.”
I reached down, held up the sneaker. Just held it and stood up.
Annie’s playful mood evaporated. She flattened her ears, shied back, and turned for the stairs, tail between her legs.
The hair stood up on the back of my neck. Inexplicably, an image flashed through my head: a dirt track, a too-short length of chain.
“Oh my god,” I said. “Annie, hey.” She stopped on the second stair from the landing, peered warily around one leg. “Annie. Did someone used to throw shoes at you?”
I talk to my dog in complete sentences. I know it sounds insane. I know dogs comprehend neither grammar nor syntax. But they perceive the overtones of stress or pleasure, sadness or elation. They read human faces differently than they do the faces of any other animal; they are sensitive to expressions of anger or approval. My dog doesn’t understand the words I’m using, but in the aggregate, she always knows what I mean.
I went into my room and put the shoe down. Annie stood in the hallway, watching from a safe distance.
“Hey. Come here,” I said, keeping my voice warm and calm. She trotted in slowly, sat in front of me. I crouched down, and she put a paw on my arm, head lowered, tail still. I ran my hands over her neck and muzzle as I explained that sometimes she’d do things to make me mad, but that I would never throw things at her, never yell at her, never, ever hit her.
“Now, come on,” I said, standing. It’s her tenth day post-op, the first day she has permission to frolic and zoom and travel. “Maybe later we’ll go get some ice cream.” She thumped her tail, licked my hands, the incident already forgotten, and we headed back downstairs.
Chuck Wendig wrote a scene in Atlanta Burns that really upset me. I mean, it’s a whole book of upsetting scenes, but there is one in particular, about two-thirds of the way through the story, a story in which a pit-style dog features prominently. Without being too spoilery: nothing gets me like bad shit happening to animals in stories. Murder, rape, infanticide; all that, I can handle. But animals—those scenes are nearly impossible to read.
So I was pretty pissed off at Chuck—pissed enough that I threw my Kindle across the room, just-read-the-Red-Wedding style, and blasted out my feelings in a slew of disgusted obscenity. I felt like it was a cheap shot at my emotions, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep reading. I did, of course, and was grudgingly relieved by a satisfying resolution. (All is forgiven, Chuck.) Nothing gets me like bad shit happening to animals—but nothing satisfies like bad shit happening to people who do bad shit to animals, amirite?
In my head I hear something Dustin said to me last week, when I reported on Annie’s rapid progress: “I’m going to find her previous owners and conduct a grisly Japanese mob-style vendetta on their shit.” In my head I see Atlanta, all taut fury and stormy-hearted vengeance, the gray-green wrath that leads a squall line. She does not look up as she loads the shotgun, snaps it shut.
“Not good enough,” she says. “I got the gun. You get the chain, and the shoe.”