Available to read online, in the March 2015 issue of Bluestem Magazine:
The story behind the essay:
The awful day I describe in Bad Dog happened in November of 2013. Our physical wounds, human and canine, healed fairly quickly. My daughter has scars on her shin, and the little black dog, Boris, has a set of hard, bumpy scars over his neck, in the outline of the jaws of Delmar (pictured above), the dog who attacked him. When Boris’ fur grew in over the scars it came in white instead of black. It was about three months before he would play again. Now, a bit over a year later, he is happy and playful and healthy.
We now have three dogs; a purebred America Bulldog, Blossom, and two rescues. Boris, a Scottie-Cocker (?) mix, came from Fuzzy Face Rescue of the Northern Neck, near Fredericksburg, Virginia. I found the shelter through a search on Petfinder.com. They take dogs from high–kill shelters around the state.
Fleetwood (center) is about 18 months old now. He is an English pointer-black lab cross from the Franklin County Animal Shelter in Virginia.
I cannot express how much I support the adoption of pets from shelters. If your local shelter does not have a pet that suits your preferences, have a look on Petfinder.com, where you can search by breed, age, gender, and distance. Or do a web search for breed-specific rescues. If you can’t adopt, then consider a donation. That is how I found my dogs.
Delmar (pictured at top) was a sweet, loving dog (to us). He had a high prey drive and was overly fearful of strangers. I believe he had other demons, resulting from the life he had before he came to us, at six months old. We gave him a good home for three years, and we did not hesitate to adopt a rescue again. My mixed breeds have been my healthiest dogs by far, and they show their gratitude every day.
About the essay:
I had never written a creative non-fiction essay before this, but I was so haunted by this experience that I felt a need to write it, just to get it out of my head, and park it somewhere else. On paper, I suppose I could look at it more objectively and with some distance. Writing it out was cathartic, and though it still upsets me a little each time I re-read it, the exercise of turning it into an essay was empowering.
The first time I ever read a piece of my own writing to an audience, I read this essay. I was at the Novel Retreat at the Vermont College of Fine Art. I was extremely nervous. I absolutely hate being the center of attention, and I was a wreck about putting my work out if front of people. But the attendees and faculty of this retreat were a warm, welcoming, and companionable audience. With two glasses of wine and a pep talk by new writing buddies, Victor and Maryka, to buoy me, I began to read, and my voice was a little shaky. About a minute into my five-minute limit I began to lose myself in the emotion of the story. It helped that I had on reading glasses and the audience was a blur when I looked up. But I got through that reading, and I felt I had overcome a hurdle.
After the retreat, I put the essay aside, while I concentrated on my novel. When I realized that I needed to try to get my work published, I saw that I had pitifully few pieces to offer. When the nonfiction editor of Bluestem Magazine contacted me, with interest in Bad Dog, I was delighted. She said that she liked my story and was considering publishing it, but she felt that the ending paragraph didn’t work. I’m so grateful that she bothered to ask me to tweak it because now it is published. I hope you’ll read it, and please let me know what you think.