“The fact that I know that stories of faithful dogs are kitsch does not in the least diminish their power,” notes poet and memoirist Doty (Still Life with Oyster and Lemon, 2001, etc.), who goes on to write something rather amazing.
With the idea of comforting his terminally ill lover, Wally Roberts, the author headed to an animal shelter to adopt a cuddly puppy as a playmate for their black lab, Arden. He ended up with a rambunctious golden lab named Beau, who became a “golden anchor” after the “reverberant, disordering loss” of Wally’s death. Arden and Beau saw Doty through his terrible grief: Life went on, walks had to be taken and meals served. Time passed, and the dogs accepted Doty’s new lover, first grudgingly and then enthusiastically, with Arden forming a particular bond with the now-familiar Paul. But then both dogs fell ill, Arden with Lyme disease and youthful Beau with a neurological infection that eerily echoed Wally’s: difficulty walking, paralysis, followed by death. Arden lived to the ripe age of 16, his elderly presence a constant pleasure for Doty and Paul. A catalogue of the lab’s late-life pleasures (the beach, biscuits and “demonstrating, through a nonstop, willful exertion . . . that he can still climb the three flights of stairs to our apartment”) round out the tribute. While Doty is clearly fond of animals, his boundless affection is tempered by graceful observations. His warm commemoration of the lives of Beau and Arden makes a fitting companion to his previous chronicles, in prose and poetry, of Wally’s illness and death.
A profound reflection on hope, and a song of praise for the dead.