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It's Nelly's World

Old Dog, New Tricks

alec vanderboom

If you knew me, it would not surprise you to know how little I think of being human. I am not a member of the Homo Sapiens Are Sacred booster club. It's big enough without me. Let me just cast my puny vote for the opposing team. I find humans generally myopic, tiresome about their own achievements, fatally narcissistic, and dully narrow and therefore stupid about our purported intelligence. We are the creators of Cheez Whiz and the destroyers of everything, and counting Da Vinci, Duke Ellington, and Dennis Kucinich among our number doesn't outweigh the colossal idiocies that oppose them.

Not that I want to be a dog, mind you. Because dogs end up living on chains, dead under the wheels of our tanks, I mean cars, or stunned on the other side of a closing door, left behind, always left behind, shut off from life and love, maybe for eight hours at a stretch though they can never be sure it's not going to be eight years.

I miss Nelly (from heartland Ohio). We are different species, and that is why she can't be with me. She can't ride the bus or the train or the plane, so I must shut the door and say the words she can't understand: I'm sorry; I'll be back soon. The reason we love and need our dogs is precisely because they are another species (see above re. "constancy"; also, they are non-self-cheerleaders; and generally not aware of how great they are), and that is also the great tragedy in our relationship. There is a great divide between us that can never really be bridged--and if it were, then we'd all be the same and would thus bore one another to tears with self-congratulation. But we do manage to bridge it in other ways, both productive and not (including projection), that together form the routes over which our love passes.*

*[They are also what constitute, according to the very human (see my definition above) Jon Katz, the "new work of dogs," to be our companions, friends, and surrogates. As if we were somehow sick and they the pill.]

At the moment, I have to settle for the occasional all-over body maul by Monty the Boston terrier. He reminds me of nothing so much as those Mexican jumping beans, clicking in their plastic container, from one's youth--what were they, truly? And does one want to know? Monty is so happy to see you, or perhaps, really, to see me, who gives him treats from the jar at my sister's house and snacks from the plate, who tosses his ball in the backyard, while his family goes on its merry and over-scheduled way. Monty gets to spend hours and hours alone on the porch while the kids play those sports Americans are so fond of, and that seem to be prep school for an adulthood of toeing the line, asking no questions, and sublimating the individual to the will of the mass.

I get reports of what my girl is doing at home, and I can easily imagine her at the feet of Jolanta as she talks to me on the phone, telling tales of burrs and growls. Nelly would be asleep there at her feet but with one eye out for Juni's approach. Never mind that Jolanta belongs to Juni--she is his prime resource, after all, firmly but gently cradled in his mouth. No, everything in the world belongs to Nelly, including the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and the very nice and fairly expensive Italian foam mattress from Design Within Reach. You'd think she'd paid the MasterCard on that one, given how she growls from it when she hears Juni's step on the staircase while she possesses the entire queen-size bed (and queen-size human on the bed) upstairs. She does not utter a peep, however, when it's Izzy the grande dame's feet making their way past the bedroom door, on her way to Jolanta in the guest room. Dogs make such distinctions. It is not for us to understand them.

I also heard about Juni's great discovery: he learned to open the screen door to let himself outside. Necessity is the mother of invention, and he needs to pee an awful lot after a creek swim. He takes on water like an old motor skiff. But the real mother of invention here is the fact that Juni is clicker trained, and Jolanta often whiles away the time doing shaping exercises with him. So she has created a dog who knows that if he just keeps trying, he will hit upon the key to the reward. Nothing is quite so rewarding as an emtpy bladder after experiencing a too-full one. It must have been worth all the trials he went through before finding that a paw on the brass lever yields pee-able shrub.

And, with my heart in my throat, I heard about Nelly's hand-over to Janet, who's taking care of her for the last four days, from Jolanta, who has to head back home. From the cornfields, she sees Jolanta's car driving away, and even though Pack #2, including boyfriend Willy and dispenser of chicken jerky Janet, is right there, she decides to stay with Jolanta. Which means running down the road next to her car. It was a little miracle that Jolanta even saw this black and white "speck" racing at, what, 20 mph? Another one of Nelly's nine hundred lives bites the dust. And proof that dogs don't like it when you close the door. Even if you tell them, "I'll be back soon." Nelly, I will.