“Men,” said Mr. Kyle, “people have been trying to understand dogs ever since the beginning of time. One never knows what they’ll do. You can read every day where a dog saved the life of a drowning child, or lay down his life for his master. Some people call this loyalty. I don’t. I may be wrong, but I call it love – the deepest kind of love.”
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Once, during a British literature course I took to meet a requirement and of which I knew little about, my classmates began discussing dead dog poems. Apparently it was a taboo thing to do, something that everyone did or had done, which was also something I wasn’t aware of as just the semester before I’d shared a poem I’d written about my recently deceased family dog (a robust shih tzu named Sassy who was God’s answer for a feminist dog—she was the best) with U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser in a poetry class. (He wasn’t judgmental, for the record, but told me about a poem a famous poet [and much better than me!] had written. Then I cried. I cried in front of U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser several times. He wasn’t my therapist, but maybe he should have been paid more that semester for the wonderful sage and patient advice he gave me about school, life, and of course, dogs.) Despite my failed attempt at trying to create a dedication or just a simple closure for my fluffy friend of over ten years, I don’t blame myself for trying. Dogs are awesome. Maybe the problem is we try to write about them after the fact. So, Carter Jensen Hruza: this one’s for you.

People find Carter annoying. A rugged overweight by five pounds peekapoo (Pekinese and poodle mix) with a snaggletooth we adopted from the Humane Society when he was four, he barks, doesn’t trust men when he first meets them (rightfully so!), and licks blankets, rugs, and sometimes hands incessantly, only at times when you are very busy. His breath borders on halitosis and on one memorable occasion, despite being neutered, he humped his bed and ended up with an erection for two hours that then had to be cared for by a vet. On the car ride there, he just wanted to see out the window, but he whined in pain the entire time as he stared at the streetlights and people walking by in the night while I, at the wheel, sobbed about the entire thing.

But that’s not all. About once every two weeks he tries to assert his dominance over my husband by relieving himself somewhere in Tim’s office. This is the only place he goes. He has yet to succeed in becoming the leader of our pack of three, mainly because he’s been misled. I am the leader. Duh, Carter.

Besides the times he’s dug into my arms and legs, scratching for attention, or scampered up, froze in place, and stared at me so his crazy-whites-of-the-eye showing just so he can jerk his head away and run in the opposite direction, he also sometimes refuses to spend evenings with Tim and me, choosing to head to the bedroom by himself rather than resting cordially and just plain politely with us in the living room. He will bark ferociously if he thinks I am attacking (which I’m not) or hugging Tim (Carter hates goodbyes), and if people run, he runs too, and be way too happy about it to the point where he scares the people in what he considers playful chasing.
He is one of the loves of my life, and I can’t imagine what the past four and half years would have been like without him.

Where the Red Fern Grows is one of my most hated books from my childhood. It is difficult for me to hate a book, so this is a powerful statement. It was one of those books our teacher read to us out loud in class, and my fourth grade teacher read while other students worked on homework or passed notes. Usually, I just sat and listened, staring into space because with this book I could vividly picture everything. That is true of a lot of books, but the images in this book were pure torture because 1) Raccoons, my favorite animals, were killed, 2) People—including a kid, in this instance—were killed, and 3) Dogs were killed. Living things dying do not a happy ten-year-old Rachel make. Had my family had a dog at the time, I might have burst into hysterics. Instead I cried quietly in my chair, my reaction of choice (see first paragraph) throughout all my years of education.

Carter doesn’t hunt, although the other day he did accidentally step on a fly and kick it, and then stepped on it again and disappeared it somewhere, I suspect, in his fur. He knows three tricks, one of which (“Lay down”), I am proud to say, he learned just last year. He sleeps most of the day, and one of his favorite past times while awake is to go outside and bark at the neighbors’ goings-on. He is a little white ball of fluff who trots down the sidewalk like he’s fifty feet tall. He is exemplary at not following orders, efficient at wasting time, and he sometimes pukes in weird places that we find hours or days later, sometimes with bare feet.

He doesn’t hate anything I do.

I love him unconditionally.

I know everyone might have a dead pet poem somewhere in their soul, and to me, that’s not a bad thing. Animals can reveal to us who we truly are by how we treat them. But animals who allow us to live with them are creatures worth hanging on to, worth crying about to famous smart people who, due to passing time and passing students, might not remember you years later. But they might remember the poem, however bad it might be.