Monday, June 30, 2014


They were blurry and grainy, but these photos marked a specific moment in history: the point at which people stopped wondering if galloping horses ever brought all four feet off the ground at the same time.

I guess a photo doesn't have to be artful to be pivotal. In fact, I offer another blurry, grainy example in evidence:

Gracie's Photo

I suppose most people would glance at this photo and see nothing of note. A snapshot of a dog, like any one of a million other dogs. But when I bumbled upon this picture, something electrical grabbed me by the lapels and shook hard--which must be what Destiny feels like.

Let me back up. After months of reeling from the loss of our dog, Madeline, my fallow heart had started to revive--and was aching in that empty place that only a dog could fill.

I went online to and began looking at photos of adoptable dogs. After a few weeks I had looked at hundreds of dogs. Hundreds of sweet-looking, please-bring-me-home-faced dogs. But none of them seemed quite right, and I was beginning to think that I must not be ready for another pup in my life.

And then up popped this photo. A picture of a dog who in no way met my search criteria. I had selected: a golden retriever-mix puppy, 8 to10 weeks old, who would grow into a large-sized dog. Trying to stifle her laughter, Fate slipped me this poorly-shot photo of a 4-month-old German shepherd mix who would grow up to be only medium in size.

And I just had to have her.

I couldn't tell from the photo that she had crazy-soft fur, a missing tooth, and four dainty little feet. But I could see the lapel-clutching reality that Tab A of her soul would fit into Slot B of mine.

On a less cosmic level, I found the splash of white on her chin adorable, as if she'd just lifted her face from a bowl of breakfast cereal. So of course I thought that Captain Crunch would make a perfect name for her. Mark, however, couldn't quite agree, so we named her Gracie, which I suppose suits her better (though I still call her Crunchy sometimes when no one's listening).

And from the first day we brought her home, she seemed to feel the same connection to us.

Gracie Helping with Dishes

More than 10 years later, I look at Gracie, and I can still get teary-eyed with gratefulness for the way this kooky ol' Universe makes things right.

Today I'm going to remind myself to listen more carefully for other messages I know are out there for me.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Stop What You're Doing, and Laugh


I tend to believe that if you don't assign a dog a career, like pulling a sled or leading the blind, then that canine will feel compelled to choose a vocation. 

I know dogs who have hired themselves on as Homeland Security, Food Monitor, Ball Retrieval Specialist, Human Shadow, Bed Warmer, Mailman Detector, Rodent Exterminator, or Doorbell Alert Squad Leader.

Chester chose himself the lofty career of Court Jester. (Court Chester?)

Now certainly, the inborn nature of most dogs gets people laughing easily and often. But make no mistake about it: Chester was committed. Humor was this dog's calling. With a little more muscle in his hind legs, he would have played the circuit as a stand-up comic. 

Lucky for Chester, he lived with two hilarious friends of mine, so they could all keep each other giggling. 

My most vivid memories of Chester go something like this: We humans are sitting in the living room cracking wise about one thing or another, until someone gets off a good one--the kind of joke that shoots wine through your nose if you're not careful. The guffaw still rattling the windows, around the corner trots Chester, head cocked, studying our laughter and deconstructing the punchline (so he can work it into a later routine).

And oh, how Chester loved to play jokes on people. He would stare at a fixed point over your shoulder until you could stand it no longer. When you turned 'round to see what he was looking at, he would grab the (insert forbidden object here) and bound away, his wiggling body spelling out the letters of "neener-neener."

Not that I have completely deified Chester, of course. I could see the gaps in his craft. I mean... he had no gift at all for subtle humor. Irony was lost on him, his grasp of literary allusion was pathetic, and he couldn't even pull off a decent pun. 

But Chester was a master of slapstick.

Chester guarding the house at night

Once upon a time, a mystery was plaguing his people. They would hear a loud bang from upstairs, and dashing up to investigate would find nothing out of order. They would, however, notice Chester standing by the bathtub looking longingly at the faucet, which they would turn on for him. (Chester loved to drink water from the tub spout.) This pattern continued for some time: A loud bang, a thorough investigation, and a purely coincidental opportunity to let Chester have a sip from the tub.

Until one day the man-person acted on his ever-mounting suspicion. When next he heard The Big Bang, he crept quietly up the stairs, and from his vantage point watched Chester use his snout to lift the toilet seat high into the air and let it drop. 

Clearly, Chester's legacy is his ability to make people smile; I do it to this day, every time I think about him.

With Chester as my inspiration, I'll find some time this morning to ponder what people are most likely to remember about me when I'm gone--and figure out if that's what I want to be remembered for.