Dog Is My Co-Pilot

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Dogs aren’t impressed by large vocabularies or fancy philosophizing.  They’re experts on nonverbal communication.  They catalyze mindfulness of the way things are and prevent one from being forever lost in thought.  They present the universe in a canine microcosm to young children with whom they form special bonds.

Once, years ago, I was reading one of the Babysitters Club series to our oldest child.  Kristy and the Snobs. Met the family dog Louie early on and was engrossed in the narrative well enough that I didn’t pick up on the clue when Louie was limping and Kristy said “We’ll tell Mom, but it’s probably nothing” on page 7.

Next evening I read that “… last night he walked right into a table when he was aiming for me” and still didn’t get it.  But by chapter 12 “Louie was in bad shape” and I can remember thinking that “this is a kid’s book, this can’t be happening”.

It is often said and written that children’s books are the most difficult to write and that kids make for the most demanding of audiences.  Their books are comprised of sparse spare prose and a straightforward storyline.

More importantly, you can’t bullshit a kid.  One juvenile non-sequitur and it’s over, you’ve lost them.  They’ll yawn and/or interrupt and interest completely lost, you’ll have to start something new next time.

Not coincidentally, in Children’s Experience with Death author Rose Zeligs maintains that “You cannot ever fool a child.  He is closer to the deep inborn collective unconscious and senses any default in … dallying with the truth.  No matter what the seriousness and shock the truth may invoke, the child must not lose trust in those who attempt to serve him, be they parents or professionals…”

The momentum of this particular story soon became relentless and I started to worry how I was going to handle it.  It was not easy.  Louie was old.  He had accidents of all sorts.  Poor eyesight combined with a bit of confusion led to his tumbling down the basement stairs.

Mom took Louie to the vet who said that he “was deteriorating rapidly (translated into regular speech that meant ‘getting worse fast’)”.  Chapter 12 ended with an ominous recommendation by Dr. Smith.

Not far into chapter 13:

“The receptionist called Mom’s name then, and she stood up.  David Michael and I gave Louie last pats and kisses, and then Mom disappeared down the little hallway.  When she came back a few minutes later, her arms were empty…”

Child psychologist Zeligs also wrote that: “Being closer to the earth and sky [the rural child] learns to accept death as part of life’s rhythms”.  Most children no longer live on farms and not all have pets.  The arts can help touch the earth.  Scientist Stuart Kauffman (who I introduced in my last post) wrote that Shakespeare is just as important as Einstein. I quite agree.

We had zillions of those Babysitter Club books around the house.  They all look the same and their titles are almost interchangeable. Unbelievably, perhaps, even so – two more times did I find myself lying in bed with a child and coming across Louie unprepared.  It never got easier.

I can’t wait to get home and pat our dog.  He’s twelve.

* FYI God Is My Co-Pilot is an autobiographical account by Col. Robert L. Scott of a life of flying in general and at the controls of a fighter over China in WWII.  It was a huge best seller when published in 1956, and is a great tale of ambition, determination, and bravery.  However, it has more recently been criticized for ethnic insensitivity.  “Japs”, “Huns”, “Darkies”, etc.

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