The Cool Down
Donna L.M. Khan
There are two ways to look at the world. In the first, one is moving through it with all the zeal of Genghis Khan, a conqueror, solitary, sure of victory. We attribute our triumphs to our cunning and skill.
In the other, one is a part of the world, a huge, teeming universe, tiny as a speck, living out a purpose that is at best murky and convoluted. Any victories are less by calculation than they are by happenstance. If we succeed, it is more of a happy accident, pure, dumb luck.
One day, fresh on the heels of a lunch with the famed Mississippi writer Willie Morris (former editor of Harper’s Magazine who penned the small autobiography, My Dog Skip), I found myself looking at dogs on the internet. My husband and I were building a house. A dog seemed the next logical step.
I am a southerner at heart, having grown up in the company of beautiful English Setters, Irish Setters, and German Shorthaired Pointers, all dogs that my father and my brother actually used for upland bird hunts, not just dogs that looked fancy at the end of a leash. All this to say that it became my passion to find a farm dog that was also a working bird dog. Which led me to some polo friends.
Which led me to the Boykin Spaniel, the state dog of South Carolina and a beautiful little brown packet of energy. Before I knew it I was sitting on a sofa in a Tryon cottage with a soon to be new friend, Ivey, and two female Boykin spaniels from the Boykin Spaniel Rescue, Maddie and Skittles. They peered shyly out at me from under a bookshelf. Eventually, after much-cajoling and the eventual bribe of a chicken neck, we got them on the sofa Maddie settled in, putting her head on my leg. How could I say no to blind hope such as that?
I have learned a lot from my three rescued Boykin spaniels. Sometimes, things work out in wonderful ways — our senior dog, Mister, arrived full of energy and has never stopped exploring and adventuring over the farm with us. He is, in short, a dynamo, a great companion, a regal friend.
Maddie’s life has been far more problematic.She came from a very rustic rural shelter in Illinois, was bounced around by several potential families before finally settling down with us. She was beautiful, playful, and totally intractable in the long run. We settled in to a routine, though it is probably not a routine that would have brought satisfaction to anyone who was expecting anything from a pet. She was not lovey-dovey, did not really like for you to pet her, and would only adventure so far (eventually she gave up walking with us altogether, preferring to stay at home on the porch, though she would venture an enthusiastic tail wagging and perhaps a yip of greeting when we returned.
Each day, I was grateful that I had the space to give to her and the willingness to abandon expectation in favor of what is.
Alas, the world is like that. Some rescues go to their forever homes and gel in with masterful aplomb, such as Mister, becoming dynamic, loyal friends. And some are far more needy, grateful for our attention and love, delighted to be in a safe place and a good home, but beyond the point of ‘giving back’ in the manner we usually associate with owning a pet.
Life can get tangled, rugged, rough. Some problems have beautiful solutions and some — well — some are unfathomable. I really believe we must move as a society beyond the notion that living things exist for our pleasure. We should nurture them because it’s the right thing to do. Failing to do so robs us of our humanity.
All in all, I have learned patience, happiness and the purity of love from my experiences with my rescue dogs. As Maddie passed away this morning, I was reminded of the beauty of life, of freedom, and the pure happiness of existence without expectation.
We all, man and beast, need a place to simply be ourselves.