Your one wild and precious life

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

Dennis the dachshund’s advice for life:

Sleep often and late. Use many blankets.

Comfort the sick. Be a constant presence.

Every day is good for blue jeans (fresh from the dryer, preferably).

Play with children as often as possible.
(Left: Scout, age 4, Dennis, 7 weeks. Right: Dennis, age 3, Scout, age 7)

Whatever it is you want, give it your best shot. Never give up!


dedicated with love to Joanne Emery, who’s been asking about Dennis

& with thanks to:

poet Mary Oliver, who loved dogs

Two Writing Teachers, for the monthlong Slice of Life Story Challenge

and Dennis, for brightening my every day with his wild and precious life



  1. comic verse composed in irregular rhythm.
    “doggerel verses”
    • verse or words that are badly written or expressed.
      “the last stanza deteriorates into doggerel”


Time for a nap
time to recharge
if only for a bit
on a teeny-tiny pillow
that ain’t a good fit

this is what comes
of living large

My son’s dog, Henry. Well-spoiled.
A master of making himself look “pitemous,” as you can see.


with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the monthlong Slice of Life Story Challenge
and to you, Dear Reader, for enduring this bit
of doggerel.

Man and dog

On my drive to work
at the stop sign
where the grassy green field
borders the rail-fence pasture
where two horses graze
beside the goat pen
where fat little
brown-and-white goats
rest atop their knees
beside the still waters
of the glassy pond
with rising mist

I see a man
walking his old, old dog
(its body is black
but its face as white
as snow)

as I pass
they walk and walk
in the autumn-chill
of another new day
against a backdrop
of brilliant red-orange-gold
and moody sky

the dog’s amber eyes gleam
as it it chugs along
despite weary bones

this continuity
this reliability
this faithfulness
every morning
is a tonic
to my soul

a shot of goodness
an understanding
that in the far, quiet reaches
something is right
so right
with the world

Cornfield Man. h.koppdelaneyCC BY-ND 2.0.

A breach of ethics: What happened to Dennis the dachshund

Dennis, our little cream-colored dachshund, cannot speak for himself but he knows things beyond my understanding. His acuity leaves me awed.

Consider how he began trembling one bright morning this week as my son prepared to take him to the vet for standard vaccinations. Dennis only trembles when he senses an approaching thunderstorm or when the lawn care crew is running mowers in our yard; he doesn’t like loud noises.

There was no such noise on this sparkling, early-autumn day as my boy took Dennis out to the car. Dennis loves to ride; his trembling was peculiar. The Boy texted me: I think Dennis knows he’s going to the vet.

Perhaps he did.

Perhaps he had a premonition.

Dogs don’t know words like unethical, breach, violation, and gross negligence.

But I have to wonder, now, if Dennis somehow sensed what was lying in wait for him.

He could not know the particulars, could he…

That the vet parking lot would be crowded and that The Boy would follow the “Check-In Behind Building” arrows to the back. The Boy knew that COVID regulations still preclude owners from accompanying pets inside. Vet techs would have to come and get his dog. And so it was. The Boy was handed a clipboard as Dennis was carried away into the facility.

As he completed the paperwork, another employee returned to collect it, mentioning the neutering clinic…The Boy said, We aren’t here for that. Dennis has an appointment for his rabies and distemper shots and to have his toenails clipped (dachshunds, even little ones weighing twelve pounds, have ponderous nails).

The Boy knew, of course, that the spay-neuter clinic shares the same building with the animal hospital that provides our veterinary services.

The vet tech said, No problem, we will just send him over to the other side

A moment later, she called The Boy on his cell: I have to tell you that Dennis already been sedated…

For surgery.

For which an appointment was not made.

A surgery which was not needed: Dennis has been neutered. Two years ago. By this same facility.

The Boy, in utter horror, demanded the immediate return of his dog and all of his medical records.

And then he did what children often do in extreme distress: he called his mom.

By the time I arrived, The Boy was standing in the parking lot with a very woozy Dennis in his arms.

Short version: Dennis spent the remainder of the day at home in The Boy’s lap, sleeping off the drug. I returned to work, and on my arrival at home in the evening, Dennis greeted me at the door as always, albeit somewhat unsteadily. He crawled in my lap, trembling, until he succumbed to slumber, long and deep. The next day he was his normal perky, trusting self.

Longer version, still unfolding: Answers to questions.

How does a facility sedate an animal for surgery without verifying an appointment for that surgery?

How can a sedative be administered before permission is in hand?

How can no one have looked to see that the animal had (quite obviously) already been neutered, with the presence of a bright green tattoo right there on his groin, before sedating him?

How can there be such an egregious lack of standard treatment protocol?

In the human realm, would these violations not be malpractice? Are animals of a lesser god, deserving less humane treatment?

Most chilling of all: How far would the practitioners have gone before they realized their errors? When I began asking these questions, the manager told me the clinic has neutered animals without testicles.

How…I can’t even process that.

The nonchalance with which apologies were given spawns even more questions, including why the clinic nor the vet’s office has called to see if Dennis is okay. My son reported the entire incident to the agency which governs the joint practice and, to be fair, a representative of that entity did call to check on him the next day.

He is okay, thank God, but this story is far from over.

In the end, it’s a matter of ethics. Being entrusted with the care of another living creature is one of life’s highest honors. To love another creature and to see love reflected in sentient, soulful eyes, a divine gift.

Dennis is not able to speak for himself, but he knows.

Sleeping off the sedative, safe in The Boy’s lap

No words

The offering

July morning
before the dawn
I step outside
with the dog

night clings
like a heavy curtain
silhouetting trees
against indigo sky

waning gibbous moon
gleaming bright
bathing the earth
in silversoft light

that’s what draws me
the ethereal glow
and a strange star
above the moon

the dog is here
on practical business
trotting out in the yard
—he is not mine
but he loves me so
he lived here
not so long ago;
he belongs to my son
away on vacation—

the dog
is like the morning
velvet charcoal
I can barely glimpse
the glow of his white breast
out in the darkness

a whippoorwhill calls
from the pines
while I try to discern
what star that is
so bright above the moon

king of the planets
and there in the east
Mars, glittering red

the ancients could read
their preordained ritual
but I, in the silverdark Now,

—a loud animal cry
shatters the stillness

I know without knowing

—here comes the dog
shy and humble creature
who’s not really supposed to run
on his congenitally malformed
frail back legs

here he comes, running
as hard as he can
through the shadows
charcoal in charcoal
soft shape in his mouth

No! No!

how is it that
this most benevolent creature
who’s never done another harm, never
should be ceremoniously dropping
a rabbit at my feet

no, no, I cry
horror and awe intermingled
at the unnecessary death
that he can even catch a rabbit

how Elvis starts singing in my brain
as if this act
is the sole measure
of a dog’s worth

for here stands The Dog
magically transformed
from meek pet
to mighty hunter
bringing the solitary catch
of his life
to me

a blood offering
under the waning gibbous moon
beneath the winking planet-king

oh beautiful dog
oh beautiful rabbit

I am sorry.

I could never be
a god.

July morning. Jupiter above the waning gibbous moon.