No, not the Welsh poet. Not even the folksinger after whom he’s named. No, Dylan the black dog, my Flat-coated retriever. The one with the long snout, narrow almond-coloured eyes and scraggly ears. The one who runs like a race horse.
He anchors my day – opening and closing it with a vigorous walk.
As a puppy he slept on my bed for four days in a crate (my wife slept on the sofa), so I could poke my fingers through the bars to reassure him and quiet the relentless whimpering and howling. There’s no cry in the dog world quite as piercing as the Flat-coat’s high-pitched emission of fear and anxiety.
Dylan bonded with me during those first nights. Ever since he has wanted to be physically close, lying on my foot while I write, putting a paw over my leg while I eat.
Flat-coats give new intensity to the term “contact species”.
Dogs are a huge part of my earliest and happiest memories, more constant than grandparents whom I seldom saw, more necessary than friends. I feel calm when I’m around dogs, less intense, more at ease in the world. My wife shares this deep affection for dogs and psychic calm and integration when petting a dog or walking with it.
I can understand why the French critic Hélène Cixous has never wanted to own one. She accurately says, “A dog is a threat. What is threatening about dogs is their terrible love…This infinite, complete, and limitless giving of love is exhausting for a human being…Such limitless love doesn’t fit our economy.”
The French novelist Anatole France once memorably wrote, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Parts of my soul come awake in the presence of a dog, come alive in the presence of my Dylan. He gives his best (presence, affection, devotion) and receives my best (tenderness, exercise, care). I admire his high spirits, his playfulness, his stoicism in pain, how he takes the world in by his nostrils, how he licks it into friendship.
As a kid you watch older people with their dogs and you make vows: When I’m older and have my own dog, I’ll never
- kiss the dog;
- talk to the dog as if he’s human;
- refer to myself as daddy or my wife as mommy.
- boast about the dog
Then when you have your own all the rules are broken. I kiss my Dylan a dozen times a day, talk to him as if he’s my younger brother, say things like, “Go see your mommy” or “Come to daddy,” and I’m constantly going on about his speed and balanced temperament. I make a fool of myself in all the ways I swore I wouldn’t.