It’s always seemed to me that adults, by which I mean most adults, by which I mean many of those I’ve met, have difficulty giving thanks. I don’t mean just saying “thank you” when the barista hands you a latte, but worshipful thanks. I suppose I’m talking about praise where creation is concerned. If you’re agonistic or an atheist you’ll see straightaway the predicament I’m in. I’m now standing on the thin ice of religious devotion and some might stop reading this because of it. But you see, what I’m really talking about is the love of dogs. Everyday I give thanks to creation for dogs.
(Image: Young 10-year old boy, Stephen Kuusisto’s step-son Ross, is lying in the grass. Yellow Labrador and guide dog “Corky” is standing above him and is about to “kiss” his nose.”)
Tenderness, dog spirit, moves beside and within me. She has me talking to myself in the street. Stranger I am well. My hands, so often clenched fly open. I am loved by dogs.
This of course sounds ridiculous. The great dog spirit, Canis Tempus is walking me straight out of the profane world.
But this is so.
Shortly after I was paired with met first guide dog, a yellow Labrador named “Corky” I rode the subway to Coney Island. It was April and cold but the famed Boardwalk was a great place for a brisk walk. Hardly any people were about. We pounded over the wood planks fronting the ocean and I talked to Corky softly. She held her head up, very high, to scent the Atlantic, and it was easy to imagine she was experiencing delight.
Aristotle defined happiness as “human flourishing” which he said involved activity and exhibiting virtue, and both should be in accord with reason. “Corky,” I said,“you are my virtue.” I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant.
“She can’t be my full virtue,” I thought. “She can only be the agent of my honor.” “But it’s lovely, Corky, walking this boardwalk with you and the ghost of Aristotle,” I said half aloud.
A policeman approached us and said, “Are you OK?”
“He’s seen my lips moving,” I thought. “He probably thinks I’m lost.”
“I’m just happy,” I told the cop who was taken aback.
“That’s a first for me,” he said. “I mean, no one ever says that, even at Coney Island!”
“You know,” I said, “I grew up blind in the middle of nowhere and never learned how to travel. Then I got this incredible dog! I just can’t tell you how happy I am.”
Of course I was more than happy. I was thankful. Now, 24 years later, I’m still mindful and full of praise for the dogs in my life.
The dog who loves you turns up in your dreams. Last night she was a woman on a train who said her name was “Evensong” (I kid you not) and she was old and dignified.
The dog who loves you is part of your soul (I kid you not) and she insists that mirth never dies. That is, as they say, how things stand.
Carl Jung had it wrong: the anima or animus is not the man or woman inside you but the dog who loves you; the one who first loved you; who loves you now. Sorry Yeats, here’s how the poem should go:
“Young man lift up your russet brow,
And lift your tender eyelids maid,
And brood on dogs and dogs who love…”
ABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.
Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Barnes and Noble
(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger