My granddaddy said you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat a dog. Someone who treats a dog badly, is a bad person. Plain and simple. A person who treats a dog with regard and deference is a good egg.
Right now, my wife is holding our blind coonhound, Marigold. She holds our pet like a baby. Not like a dog.
The Christmas tree in our den is sparkling with twinkly lights. And my wife is stroking Marigold’s head. The same canine head that was smashed in by an abuser.
Marigold’s face was struck with a blunt object. Her optic nerve scarred over. She lost her vision. The doctor removed one eye. This week, Marigold has another ophthalmologist appointment. The doctor is likely going to tell us we need to remove the other eye, too. It doesn’t work, and it’s causing too much pain.
What probably happened, the vet said, is that someone paid a lot of money for this hunting dog, a high-dollar scent hound. But Marigold turned out to be gun shy. Loud sounds wreck her. Her abuser wasn’t happy about shelling out thousands of bucks for a dog who doesn’t like noise.
So he took his frustration out on the animal. He used a hard object. A length of rebar, maybe. Perhaps the butt of a rifle. Maybe a two-by-four.
My wife is softly humming to Marigold. “I love you,” she is quietly singing.
Life with a blind dog is tricky. It’s not like having a regular dog in the house. When we feed Marigold treats, for example, you have to touch her nose and let her know you’re near. Then, Marigold simply opens her mouth wide and hopes like crazy that someone will place the food into her mouth.
“Please feed me,” is what she’s saying. “I don’t know where you are, but I’m opening my mouth to make it easier for you.”
Marigold’s internal schedule is all screwed up, too, because blind dogs can’t sense light or darkness. So they have no idea what time it is. Sometimes Marigold wakes up at 3 a.m. and starts licking my face. And I start cussing and I say, “Please go back to bed.” Whereupon Marigold barks with glee. Because there is nothing half as fun as waking Dad at 3 a.m.
But, oh, how we love this animal. And nobody loves her more than my wife.
We don’t have kids. Once upon a time, we tried to have kids, but the doctor said sometimes couples just can’t have them. As a result, my wife and I have a huge vacuum in our hearts.
Because of this, sometimes we fall deeply in love with other people’s children. And it’s embarrassing because they aren’t our kids, and people look at us funny for being obsessed with someone else’s child.
It seems wrong that people who love kids so much can’t have them. But that’s the way life works.
Our most recent dog, Marigold, has satisfied a deep paternal need within us. My wife and I have never had a deeper bond with an animal. It’s astounding.
Because this blind dog needs us for everything. Marigold can’t do anything by herself.
She needs us for simple tasks like finding her food bowl, or walking down a flight of stairs. We hold her when she has nightmares—which is common for blind animals. We talk to her all the time, so she knows where we are.
It’s been the most rewarding animal relationship I’ve ever had. Hands down. Loving this dog has changed me as a human being.
And whenever I see Marigold crawl onto my wife’s lap; when I see this woman speak softly to this wounded animal; when I see her stroke Marigold’s fur and kiss her broken skull, I feel something profound inside.
Jamie Dietrich cradles our blind dog like a mother. She carries Marigold down staircases. She holds the animal like an infant. Like a mother would.
She kisses the mangled scars where Marigold’s eye used to be.
“Oh, I love you so much,” whispers my wife. She is a woman who is filled with compassion and goodwill. And she has proven to me that my grandfather was absolutely right.
Happy 20th anniversary, Jamie.