C.W. Gusewelle is away this week. His regular column will return. In the meantime, here is one of his favorites.
How much do animals know? How much do they remember?
With golden eyes as cool as ice, he stared out through the wire of his kennel at the stranger coming toward him.
For his first 15 months of life he’d had a regular home — a yard, his own food dish, a park for exercise, a rug indoors for inclement nights. Then he’d had to be boarded out, kenneled in a place with dozens of other dogs, a clamorous company, and given over to the companionship of another man.
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What sense did he made of that? None, most likely. One morning he was loaded in the car, as so many happy times before. And after traveling awhile he was taken out and led past other boarders raging at their wires and locked in an empty pen. And the car and the man went unexplainably away.
After that the other man, the different one, came regularly. In the autumn they would spend a day or two days together looking for quail and pheasants. Then he would go back to the pen. Autumn turned to bitter winter. There was straw in his box, and maybe he slept warm, or maybe not. Certainly there was no rug on a heated floor. A year he spent there, and that was nearly half his life so far — long enough you would think he might have forgotten all that went before.
Now this stranger was walking toward his pen and, for a fact, in those flat, golden eyes there was not a sign of recognition.
I put down a hand. A nose was thrust cautiously toward it. There was a moment’s uncertainty. Then his face turned up — looking directly into mine. The yellow eyes were no longer cool, detached. There was familiarity in them. They were full of things recalled.
His time away is finished now. But what can he possibly understand of this strange experience? Nothing, I suppose, although surely he will remember it. Any creature that remembers home must also remember exile. Nor is he apt to ever forget that other man whose visits and excursions gave purpose to those weeks.
What he does seem to understand is that the exile is over — not just interrupted but really finished. Perfectly unperturbed, he sleeps again on his rug or in his chair, as if he’d never left them. When called to ride in the car he goes gladly, expecting only good, never imagining he might again be left.
My explanation of all this would be lost on him, and anyway he does not seem to require one. Intuition tells him all he needs to know. He’s home. He sleeps warm. And that’s how it will always be. Some men learn about forgiveness by studying the lives of saints. And some of us keep dogs.