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June 28, 2011

Ann Patchett: How to Love a Dog

Posted by Stephen

Bestselling author Ann Patchett lets readers into her private life with this special essay about the relationship with her dog, Rose. Patchett's latest novel, State of Wonder, is in stores now!

steofwonder.JPGI'll admit it, I waited. Despite the happy dogs in my youth, those rough-and-tumble carriers of pure affection, I did not rush into getting a dog of my own. I had the desire but I wasn't sure about the commitment. What about those spontaneous trips out of town? What about long dinners and longer movies? What about vet bills and sleeping late and going for walks in the pounding, freezing rain? It seemed like a level of adulthood I wasn't ready for yet.

Oh, nobody's ready. It's just that one day you're walking through the park not even thinking about a dog but there she is, the giant ears, the bright eyes, the tail that wags a full seventy-five percent of her body. In an instant, all those solid reasons are shown to be nothing more than a collection of flimsy excuses. The girl who is trying to give her away (she found the puppy by the side of the road in a snow storm) gives her to you because this is Your Dog.
Or that's how it was for me and Rose.
Like any love, it was giddy at first. I couldn't get my work done. I kept having to stop and roll around on the floor with her. She followed me from room to room, licking my ankles. I could hardly sleep at night for watching her sleep. She was small and white; maybe a cross between a Jack Russell and a Chihuahua, without the deep neuroses of either breed. If shedding was an Olympic sport, she would have brought home the gold. I was besotted.
This is not to say that I didn't know love until my dog came along. I've loved plenty of people. I've loved plenty of dogs, for that matter. But Rose is my dog and I am her person. Our commitment to one another is unshakable. She would throw all of her seventeen pounds in the path of any pit bull to protect me and I would do the same for her. Dogs know something about love writ large. The rotten part is that their life spans are so much shorter than ours.
Barring some seriously bad luck, I will outlive Rose by a large margin. She is eleven now. She has a lot of warts and various fatty tumors that the vet says are harmless. She has cataracts and her back legs are weak. When we take long hikes, I always wind up carrying her home on my shoulders. When she dies, I imagine I will howl like her ancestors, but the inevitable end of a relationship is no reason not to go there in the first place. Rose has taught me how to be a better person. I'm not sure I've taught her anything except how to tell me when she wants another biscuit. She could not be a better dog.
This essay is courtesy of the HarperCollins website.