If you believe, as I do, that dogs have a purpose in our lives, we need not quibble over whether they come to us intentionally or with certain latent intentions, the former being a spirit world matter, and the latter being a mutually beneficial arrangement of human and canine desires. With Franny, I easily fell into both camps. There were many times when she looked at me with her large intelligent eyes, fixing me with what I came to call her Franny Mind Meld Stare. It was like she was assessing the state of my soul, and finding it curiously lacking, and so of course she would have to assume command out of a sort of exasperated kindness. Then there were other times when she was demoted to her essential dogginess, her uncanny mental abilities subsumed by my need for an alter ego star in my dog blog. As such, I had to literally put words in a dogs mouth. She never complained.
Franny is buried under a Cedar tree in our front yard. She has a headstone and a little ornamental fence around her grave. I sometimes sit there in the afternoon in my blue wooden chair and watch my chickens and think about Franny, and Mercedes, too, who died a few months before. They weren’t necessarily friends. I always had the distinct feeling Franny barely tolerated the other dogs, except Big Fritz, who was the only other dachshund we had when I brought her home as an 8 week old pup. Scared, sick and quite sure I wasn’t up to the task of caring for her properly, she looked to Fritz for comfort and protection. He found her annoying. But when Franny was mortally ill, and refused to eat or drink anymore, it was Fritz she lay against, and he let her.
What do I think about when I sit next to Frannys small grave? I think about her tiny, long and delicate feet. Her silky ears. Her crooked tail, and how I used to run my fingers down it until I got to the kink, which I once tried to smooth out when I was evaluating her worth as a pup. Clearly affronted, she had yelped and run away from me to the rear of the pen. I dont know what made her come back. Perhaps she decided to give me a second chance. Perhaps she saw her destiny.
I put Franny in almost all my best stories, especially the ones where important matters needed to be discussed, like politics and Zen Buddhism. Her observations were sharp, shrewd and revealed a sly prankster. But she never forgot her doggy roots, and her thinking reflected this dog eat dog natural world of ours. As such, she had no use for sloppy sentimentaL thinking, and skewered it with painful accuracy. She also called me to heel any time I failed to meet certain criteria, like paying devoted attention to her always evolving list of needs. She had no patience for small children, whom she bit, less intelligent dogs, whom she ignored, and people who forgot to greet her respectfully, whom she disdained. She hated stud dogs and the fact that being in heat left her helplessly requiring their attentions. She always tried to rearrange their faces as they came off her back. And yet, if Mokie….beautiful , curly haired, and trailing eau de bitch in her wake…was in the breeding yard at the same time, the male dogs wouldnt look twice at our Fran, and she was clearly hurt, and I for her.
Frannys range of emotions fascinated me and left me completely enthralled to her every new whim. She loved to run into the house, and bounce off my chest a few times until I followed her outside, where I was directed to play Hunt The Squirrel. My job was to tilt the long pipe the squirrel was futilely hiding in until it fell out at Frannys feet like a treat out of a gum ball machine. I only did this once, because the results were horrific, but she never gave up trying to persuade me to do it again. She was sure she could turn me into a respectable dog, if I just followed her lead and gave myself over to the glories of her canine world. She had intention. Her intention was to get in my head and infiltrate my heart.
And isnt this what I think about most, as I sit next to her grave, completely undone, months after I dug a hole, and laid her there in her favorite and very expensive blanket? There are exceptional dogs, just as there are exceptional people. My mother, having read my stories about Franny, asked me once, with a certain alarm, if I really thought she talked to me. The question brought it home to me that we may be a very select few, those of us who are privileged to know and PAY ATTENTION to exceptional dogs; that in entering into a feed back loop of communicating in the only ways we can with another species, we inhabit a new space, one of enhanced understanding; and that we DO feed each others minds. Franny became my Muse not because I slipped the bonds of sanity and believed I was talking to a dog, but because she returned the favor of studying me as I studied her, and basking in the delightful glow of her constant attention, and she in mine, the ground of garden variety reality gave way to the sheer Heaven of creativity.
The dying of a Muse is no small thing. But in the grief and loss lies the understanding. All Life acts in concert. When we sit still and pay attention, when we observe without human judgement, when we respect and honor other lives, there occurs a confluence of mental states- of -being across the species divide. How we use our new -found understanding reflects who we are in the deepest part of our souls.
Was Franny a Spirit that came to me intentionally, or an exceptionally intelligent dog that used her evolved canine wiles with intent, to influence human -to-dog outcomes? I dont know. Does it matter? I loved her. Her presence unlocked my creativity and gave me great joy. I hope to find her again in another pair of intelligent brown eyes. It’s possible I will. She taught me how to look.