On dogs and possums and the nature of wildness
I haven't had the pleasure of meeting this lovely creature, but I LOVE "Sol balls"
Beautifully written and really enjoyed The Call of the Wild reference, too. You're a reminder of what writing is meant to be.
Another beautiful column, Matt. I just read it ... loved every word.
Random story here: We have our daughter's cat while our daughter is away at College. I think the arrangment is likely permanent. The cat, Beans, is declawed, but she insists on outside time in our fenced backyard. Now... cats are nothing like dogs, you are fully aware at all time when you are living with the cat that you are essentially living with humorless death machine.
So, in the backyard, I have a feeder, because I love bird watching; I have enjoyed it for many years. I feel a little bit like Matt about this one; Matt has to catch them all (fish), I have to see and catalogue them all. And in my backyard this winter, we had a rare bird, called a Townsend's Solitaire. He brought me great joy, as he chased other birds out of his territory and fed on the neighbors Juniper Tree. The damn cat, who can never get remotely close to any of the birds in my backyard, somehow, someway, got to the Townsend's Solitaire. I still haven't forgiven her, even though, I know that "She knows not what she was done."
So... in other news, Free Cat.
New subscriber here. My wife told me to stop reading and forwarding posts to her without supporting. She had a point, which she often does, so I did. You're a fantastic writer regardless of subject, and this piece was no deviation from the norm.
I've been without a dog for too long. We have a properly-sized house for the two adults who originally purchased it. But it's since been made significantly smaller by the addition of two boys under four, and the Fed has deemed it necessary for us to stay a bit longer. I prefer medium-to-large sporting dogs, but we just don't have the room for one at the moment. A terrier of some sort made more sense. All of the personality and spunk; a quarter of the size.
A neighbor turned us on to a local rescue where she volunteers and fosters. A female Westie had been dropped off pregnant and ended up giving birth to five male, purebred puppies. (What profit the discarders had squandered, both economically and morally!) I was told we had an "in" so I dutifully filled out the 50 question application attesting to all of the high-end dog food we planned to buy and training we planned to do. I narrowed a list of twelve Scottish names down to three, presented them to my wife and she loved the one I too liked best. The puppies were born healthy in mid-October, ready for adoption in mid-December.
All was going to plan until we were rejected for having children under the age of seven. The official line from the shelter: "Westie puppies are small and delicate," as though that's a condition inherent only to that breed. There was no age requirement in the listing, and our children have both been raised to be gentle with animals. I was glad we hadn't told the boys about our new puppy but deeply disappointed and left wondering if not us, who did the shelter actually intend to let adopt those puppies? In the end all were spoken for without even being publicly listed for adoption, which is a good outcome I guess.
Your column reminded me, now that the Holidays have passed we need a dog. Even at their most animalistic there's no better companion. Thank you for that.
The Great Pyrenees doesn’t cotton too much to micromanagement and have memories like steel traps. Ours still remembers a discarded Big Mac that resided under a bush in the park next door. Toby insists on checking under that juniper just in case another burger’s shown up.
And there’s been many a night that I’ve had to come out and drag him away from the possum that lives under my back neighbor’s shed. Paul put up a high scalloped privacy fence (he doesn’t have to look when I’m sunbathing in my Speedo!), and Mr. Possum always plays dead at the top of the scallop. If Toby only realized that he could reach the fella if he used the same skill that gets him into the pickup and just jumped, there’d be a massacre. But there’s no way to call him back from his prey.
As far as possums are concerned, my grandfather and great uncles insisted that they’d shot one as kids. When they’d almost finished skinning it, and the pelt was only connected to the body at the four feet, the beast stood up, hissed at them in pain, and walked off until they could unload three more .22 long rifle rounds in its skull. Those dudes are resilient, and as an adult, I respect the heck out of them. Like I do bats. Any animals that eat ticks and mosquitoes are friends in my book, even if Toby disagrees.
Cambridge Dictionary pretty much says the same:
But hey man, I'm the last guy to judge people who stubbornly cling to archaism. I still carried a flip phone out of stubbornness until 2021. And would be still if it I could've gotten into my Substack account on it.
While I'm a cat person, my family does have a dog, who ambles around our house and dedicates his life to two primary pursuits: protecting us from UPS delivery people and "recycling" (i.e. eating cat turds before the automated litter box can sweep them away). The dog and I are on amiable terms--my wife is his favorite and vice/versa--despite him rightly suspecting I favor the cats over him (if nothing else the cats keep us mouse free whilst the dog can't keep squirrels out of our garden). Our dog is a pit-bull mix, fairly mellow, and very much outclassed in the brain department by the felines (and maybe my daughter's fish too).
Matt's winter walk story reminded me of a time when I took our resident dullard for a stroll in a nearby park. He trotted around, looking about happily, sniffing various trees and shrubs. Another dog came bounding up a path and my own suddenly flipped a switch to PROTECT and was instantaneously between me and the interloper (who quickly decided to move on). Huh, I thought... the old boy has some use after all...
Finishing up the Matt's piece, with a burst of affection for canines, I looked at ol' Winston as he lay on the living room carpet in the winter sun, dreaming of who knows what, when he woke up and promptly yurked up a steaming pile of wretchedness on the rug (mere centimeters from the hard wood floor). Dogs...
What a beautiful ride through this piece of writing! Dogs, possums, fathers & sons - just a lovely piece. Thank you!
Matt, I am almost at a loss for words on this particular piece! "...affection that runs deeper than anything that impotent words can articulate, there’s no conversation we could have that would bind us like our companionable silence as we move through the world together."
Your Solomon is a beauty; quite regal, majestic and appears to be quite the charmer. Thank you for sharing his essence, his personality and the adventures you have together.
I, too, am owned by a rescue boxer with a past. He will be ten years of age in May and goes by many names, Boss ~ Bossy Bear ~ Twinkletoes. Everyone will tell you they have the best dog and they are not wrong. We lost our beloved Miss Sunny three years ago (she is in my profile pic) and the other quote here that resonated so deeply was this one: "It’s not only that I can summon grand old days with each, but I also recognize that if one of those adored dogs had in fact lived as long as I have, there’d be only the one to adore." I have been stuck in grief over the loss of my girl for three years now. This was a persepective that I so desperately needed.
Dogs, poetry and music. The trinity that can bring out the best in us. There are times when particular words or song can make our spirits soar and this particular Slack Tide did just that for me.
Dude nice piece... Dogs are the best & Music is right there.... it’s another language that I understand but can’t speak/make it. 😊✌🏻
Keep up the great work brother.
Did you know that possums are not prone to rabies? Apparently their body temperature is too low to support life for the virus. So there's that, in addition to the tick thing.
Had a yellow Lab who I had to leave with my Dad after flying her out of Liberia on a Navy CH-57 during the early days of the civil war there. (Took out seven dogs and one cat. Had to put their kennels in State Diplomatic Pouch bags, with air holes cut in, to keep the press from seeing them arrive in Sierra Leone.) Left her with my Dad in Florida (along with a younger black Lab, and his own mob of Shitzus and whatevers), and they got along famously. One evening he and she were chilling on the patio when all the other dogs started barking and yapping at something down in the bushes along the Intracoastal. Dad and Juno went down to investigate, and as he tried to calm the yappers down, he told me Juno just walked through the chattering classes, as it were, reached down and grabbed the possum by the neck, gave it a good shake, and dropped the carcass. She then turned and ambled back up the hill; problem solved, time to get back to sunset watching.
Thanks for this article. Well done.
Our boy is a 3 year old German Shepard, and winter walks are the best. The woods are quiet and still, and the diminished threat of ticks is a plus. We are lucky that he is not a runner, and we never use leashes in the woods. He loves to scout around ahead of us, but never gets too far and regularly looks back to make sure we are still there. He’s a love- sweet and sensitive but also playful. His personality reminds me of our boys when they were five years old- happy and fun, but also eager to please! Thank you for your wonderful essay and thumbs up for Dispatch!
I know we’ve got all the feels in the comments on this one -- understandably so -- but I haven’t thought about Possible Possum in decades. I didn’t recognize his picture, but I sure did his catch phrase. And I’ll add to the love fest with a shoutout to our Golden Retriever, Shepard. An endless fount of unconditional love. I am convinced he saved the life of my oft depressed son with all that unconditional love. He’s the goodest of good boys.
Dog people —I think — prefer the company of other dog people.
And dogs, bless them, can sense upon meeting a human for the first time if that biped is a dog person. Dogs know.
Something I remember vividly from reading Stephen King’s *The Stand* in high school are the descriptions of Kojack, the Irish Setter (?) adopted by one of the pandemic survivors, Glenn. There were a couple places where King went inside Kojack’s POV.
We got our good boy Conner (looks like a Yellow Labrador Retriever and Basset Hound mix, therefore a Bassador) when he was 8 1/2, after he was abandoned in DE when his prior owner passed away. He thinks I am pretty okay and seems to be glad for whatever time we have together, as am I. He seems to be most concerned about not having another beat friend shot out from under him.