I met Tegan Moore quite recently at a Clarion West One Day workshop and we got to talking about animals, fictional and otherwise. It became quickly obvious that she has given a lot of thought to this topic and is also involved in some fascinating work with the dog in her own house, so I pleaded for a blog entry from her. She has sent the following (thank you, Tegan!) with this observation: “It is the opposite of a cute story about teaching my dog to put her feet in a bucket.”
Check her out at alarmhat.com
When I was eight my dog dug up a nest of rabbit kits and brought one, bloody and mangled, to me in our front yard. It was dead, obviously and fortunately, and so young that it hardly looked like a rabbit yet. When my mother took the kit away the dog trotted purposefully back into the woods and brought us another, this one still struggling.
It was the size of a small potato, its fur dark and matted with blood and saliva, ears flat against its head and eyes wild and glassy. It lay broken on its side in the yellow grass. It did not seem to be able to move, from fear or damage. The dog, a terrier, had probably shaken it with at least as much vigor as he applied to his tennis balls, so it was unlikely that its spine was intact. But it was breathing fast, hyperventilating, its ratty flank rising and falling three or four times a second. Faster than a heart could beat. It wasn’t going to live long.
After the dog was dragged into the house, my mother and I stood looking at the bunny. “I could kill it,” my mom said, “but he’s your dog.”
My eight-year-old self had fantasies about country living, and how suited I was for it. I felt it a horrible oversight that I’d been born into a dentist’s family and not a farmer’s; I wanted flocks and stalls to muck and mud boots that went up to my knees, not a three-car garage on a mown half-acre. My mother, the daughter of a farm girl though no farmer herself, tried to dissuade me. The life is hard and farm animals aren’t pets. You have to do things for and to them you wouldn’t be comfortable doing, was her implication, and I was determined to prove her wrong. I wasn’t a soft, girly animal-lover. I’d seen Old Yeller. I knew what you sometimes had to do.
I’d recently been given an eight-year-old-sized teal blue shovel, which I fetched from the garage. I’d never killed anything before; even the perch I caught from the dock were unhooked and thrown back. Still, I wasn’t afraid. I had a dog, and the dog killed things, and if he didn’t finish the job then it was my responsibility to end the suffering he’d made. It was only fair.
I raised the shovel over my head and swung it down hard as I could. There was a soft clunk and a scream, a horrible, enormous squeal of a scream. It was so loud. How, when the bunny was so small and so hurt? Where did all that sound come from?
I didn’t run and I didn’t cry, though both seemed like reasonable reactions. I set the shovel down on the grass.
“I can’t do it,” I told my mom. I meant physically—I wasn’t strong enough—but I couldn’t do it anyway, I couldn’t swing again at that poor mess and risk making it scream again. I went into the house and locked myself in the bathroom.
My next birthday I asked for a BB gun, just in case it happened again, but it never did. The dog lost interest in killing things, or kept it to the privacy of the woods.