Variations on a Theme: "Lady with a Little Pet Dog" (apologies to Anton Chekhov, Joyce Carol Oates, and dog lovers everywhere)
Yet Another Lady with a Pet Dog
I knew a woman who owned a devoted dog. With floppy ears and big paws, this shaggy mix of mongrel and pedigree followed her everywhere. When she said, “sit,” it sat. When she said, “fetch,” it lay the teeth-marked stick at her feet.
Everyone remarked how lucky she was to have such a dog, one whose loyal eyes followed her about the room, who wagged in the driveway when she returned from a trip, a dog who slept at the foot of her bed and lapped the toast crumbs beneath her table.
Unfortunately, the dog’s devotion began to get on her nerves. Some days, the canine’s eyes appeared red-rimmed and rheumy, and when she looked into his brown pupils, she suspected dog dementia.
Whenever she prepared for a trip, the dog sensed her departure. When she opened the door of her flashy coupe, the big dog made himself small and tried to fit into the back seat. Angry at the dog hairs and muddy paws, she raised her hand and yelled, “Get out!” As the dog left the car with his tail between his legs, she hated him for making her feel mean and coarse.
The feeling didn’t go away. At night, she loathed the sound of his breathing and the smell of his doggy breath. Once again, she yelled, “Get out!” The dog skulked down the stairs. Her ire only increased his devotion.
One day she realized that the dog, the house, the village itself had become intolerable. She packed a bag, caught a plane, and moved to the other side of the world.
The dog waits for her return.
Still Another Lady with a Pet Dog
I know a woman who cannot rid herself of her pet dog. She says, “”Don’t visit today. The dog might bite you.” Or, “I can't go out today. The dog wouldn’t like it.” She confides. “He doesn’t like anyone to get too near me.” It is difficult to tell whether she is proud of this possessive dog or afraid of it.
She has developed two explanations for the dog’s behavior. “It’s the breed,” she says. Or, as if the mystery lies in early kennel life, she says, “ I didn’t train it, you know.”
Everyone in her family hates the dog. At first they were intimidated by its pedigree and their lack of familiarity with the breed. They admired certain traits, its fastidious eating habits for example. After a while they made fun of it, imitating its clipped bark and peculiar tail.
In the beginning, she took the dog to family gatherings, but the dog didn’t travel well. That created a dilemma for her: take the dog or leave it.
Fifteen years of ownership have made her reluctant to part with her problematic pet She says, “Perhaps some day the dog will run off.”
Her friends tell her, “You can’t spend your life waiting for your dog to disappear.”
Lately, she blames herself for the dogs’ recalcitrance. “I’m not a good owner, “ she says. “I haven’t learned the right commands. My voice is too soft.” Once, in a moment of soul searching, she said, “Maybe I don’t like dogs. Or this dog.”
Nevertheless, she feeds it doggie vitamins and gourmet dog chow and keeps its kennel spotlessly clean.
Frankly, I think this is an incredible amount of trouble to go to. After all, it’s just a dog.
Lady Without a Pet Dog
I once knew a woman who insisted on throwing a bright red ball into her empty yard. When she finally retreated to her house, she was angry that no clever canine returned the ball to her slippered feet.
When friends confronted her with a simple solution, “Why don’t you buy a dog?” she shook her head.
“Too much training and trouble. I’d rather play fetch with my disappointment.”
Nancy Harris McLelland taught creative writing, composition, and literature for over twenty years and Conducted writing workshops for the Western Folklife Center, Great Basin College , and the Great Basin Writing Project . An Elko County native with a background in ranching. McLelland has presented her "Poems from Tuscarora" Both at daytime and evening events at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko. Her essay, "Border Lands: Cowboy Poetry and the Literary Canon" is in the anthology Cowboy Poetry Matters .