Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships with Dogsby Suzanne Clothier
Akin to Monty Roberts's The Man Who Listens to Horses and going light-years beyond The Hidden Life of Dogs, this extraordinary book takes a radical new direction in understanding our life with canines and offers us astonishing new lessons about our pets. From changing the misbehaviors and habits that upset us, to seeing the world from their unique and natural perspective, to finding a deep connection with another being, BONES WOULD RAIN FROM THE SKY will help you receive an incomparable gift: a profound, lifelong relationship with the dog you love.
- Grand Central Publishing
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Bones Would Rain from the SkyDeepening Our Relationships with Dogs
By Suzanne Clothier
Warner BooksCopyright © 2005 Suzanne Clothier
All right reserved.
IN THE COMPANY OF ANIMALS
You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself.
MY ONLY MISTAKE WAS LICKING HER KNEE. Until that moment, they had been quite tolerant of me panting quietly under the dining room table, a good place to lie on a warm summer's evening. I was a smart dog. I knew I might have been cooler lying on the slick tile in the bathroom, or even outside, shaded by the bushes along the foundation. But I would have missed being with my family. Seen from beneath the table, framed by a tablecloth, my family appeared as a collection of limbs and clothing: plump knees, knobby knees, scabby knees, tired-looking ankles rising pale and thin from sensible white socks, pleasantly grubby feet idly rubbing the rungs of a chair, a flip-flop dangling from a swinging toe. I shifted to lean against a woman's knee, eyes closed as I breathed in the sweetly familiar perfume that rose from a hollow on her ankle. Absently, she reached down to pat my head, and grateful for the attention, I licked her knee. With my aunt'sstartled cry, my blissful moments as the family dog came to an end. It was not fair, I thought resentfully as I was hauled out from under the table and placed unceremoniously in a chair with the command, "Sit here and eat like a human being!" All I wanted was a dog. If I couldn't have a dog, the least my family could do was allow me to be a dog. And everyone knows that dogs lick the people they like.
It was a typical middle-class family that owned me-no more dysfunctional than most, and certainly not one that encouraged such odd behavior in its eldest child. While tolerant of and kind to animals, neither of my parents were "animal" people. It was not for want of love or acceptance that I was drawn to animals, though for many children animals do freely offer the unconditional love and acceptance often lacking in young lives. Yet long before I knew disappointment or anger, long before I learned how hurtful and complex human beings could be, there was an instinctive gravitation toward animals. Animals of every description drew me to them simply because they existed; they were, and are, my Mount Everest-ultimately defying any explanation of their magnetism, unbearably inviting-there to be seen and possibly known if I am willing to undertake the expedition.
It was not enough to watch animals, or even to touch them. I wanted to see their innermost workings, to be inside their minds, to see and feel and smell and hear the world as they did. My experiments in "being" an animal were usually carried out in private, since my mother's tolerance for my animal behaviors had pretty much vanished by the time I had licked one too many knees. In playing house with my sisters, however, these skills and experiments were encouraged, as they allowed for exciting new story lines to be developed. Typically, my middle sister would play mother (a role in which she was and is extremely fluent), and our youngest sister would accept whatever role we assigned her. Without exception, I played the family pet. Sometimes I was a dog, sometimes a horse, and sometimes, stretching myself to more exotic roles, I played a cougar or a lion or a tiger until the requisite fierce roars had exhausted my throat.
IF BERLITZ HAD OFFERED DOG
In my lifelong quest for fluency in animal languages, fluency in Dog was the first and the easiest. After all, native speakers lived in my neighborhood and could be readily studied. Whether in the company of a living, breathing dog or only conjuring the countless fictional dogs in my head-Bob, Lad, King, Buck, Lassie-I practiced. I practiced panting, to the annoyance of my sisters and to my own dismay when I discovered that far from cooling me as I had read it did for dogs, panting only made me dizzy and left me wondering if dogs ever hyperventilated as I did. I tried lapping water and eating from a bowl on the floor, wishing each time my muzzle were longer and more suited to the task. I truly loved (and still do) gnawing on bones from a steak or a chop, and understood at least in part why dogs look so blissful when granted such a treat. I practiced not turning my head when I heard a sound behind me but instead cocking an ear in that direction. It frustrated me that lacking highly mobile and visible pinnae I was unable to display publicly just how skilled I had become. Tail wagging presented problems not easily solved-a rolled shirt or towel gave a rather dead effect, no matter how much I wiggled my hindquarters. Ultimately, I settled on a wag much like my ear movements -refined, subtle, and known (most regrettably) only to me.
I perfected several growls, a snarl and a snap that ended with a delightfully audible click of my teeth that rarely failed to alarm those at whom it was directed. My hurt-dog yelp covered the complete range of having my paw accidentally stepped upon to mortally wounded and was realistic enough to stop people in midstep. And of course, my barks were convincing-so much so that I was occasionally employed to bark menacingly if my parents weren't home and someone came to the door. In college, my one-man "dog fights" were guaranteed to liven up a boring night in the dorm bathroom. It's amazing how easily you can convince otherwise intelligent people that there are two poodles at war in a shower stall.
There were other languages to be mastered as well. Horses eclipsed even dogs on my passion scale, and when at age ten I began riding lessons, a new language of movement, gesture and sounds opened to me. By age twelve, I had mastered the basics: the greeting exchange of slow, careful breaths in each other's nostrils; the nicker; the whinny; the alarm snort; the head tosses and snaking neck movements of an annoyed horse; the slitted eyes and pinned ears of anger; even the high-headed, wideeyed sideways retreat of a spooked horse. To this day, when startled, I sometimes revert to a horselike shying. Annoying childhood pranksters attempting to dunk my head into the water fountain while I was drinking failed to realize that I had my ears turned back to hear them. They were always surprised when, as any horse might, I kicked them with great accuracy. Of course if they'd been able to speak Horse, they would have seen the pinned ears and the slitted eyes and known that they'd been given fair warning.
My only regret in learning the basics of Horse when I did was that it came too late to be truly useful. Between ages six and eight, I worked on my most ambitious role-the simultaneous roles of a Canadian Mountie, his horse, and his dog. If at that tender age I had known more than rudimentary Horse, my gallops through the neighborhood would have had far more authenticity.
To the best of my ability, my love of animals was incorporated into every aspect of my life. My mother encouraged my interests even though she did not always understand them or share my curiosity and delight in all aspects of the natural world. She learned to check with caution any container in my possession. A mere Dixie cup might be home to a frog or a collection of shed locust skins or even a deliberately grown mold. Her laundry basket might contain newly washed socks or neatly folded pajamas; just as easily, it might be home to a naked baby bird with hideously visible internal organs. Her card table, turned upside down and wrapped in chicken wire, became home to Buster and Dandy, a pair of Rhode Island Red chickens who, as much older chickens, repaid her tolerance by merrily eating every blossom on three flats of Mother's Day plants.
Without a single question and little more than a raised eyebrow, my mother supplied me with pie pans, flour, molasses, and a paintbrush. Though she may have idly hazarded a wild guess as to what I had in mind, nothing prepared her for the reality of what I did with these items. I had just finished reading The Yearling, as she well knew-she'd been the one to find me sobbing so fiercely on the living room sofa that she actually feared one of my friends had died. But seeing the book in my hand, she ventured sympathetically, "I suppose you've gotten to the part where he shot Flag, huh?" I nodded and sobbed louder. "Well, dinner's ready whenever you are." Once I had recovered from grieving for the yearling deer, I decided to use Jody and his pa's method to track honeybees in my own neighborhood to their hive. The book had discussed at length the seemingly simple matter of using molasses to attract bees who would then receive a dab of flour on their behinds, said flour then serving as an easily followed visual marker of the bees' flight. I can now categorically state that my Great Bee Experiment proved only that this classic book was entirely a work of fiction, and that bees object rather violently to having flour dabbed on their behinds. It was not the last of my Great Experiments, but it was one of the more painful ones.
Only occasionally did my enthusiasm overrun my mother's considerable tolerance. I'll never know what rare gleam in my eye warned her when I asked for a small kitchen knife one fine summer afternoon, but she hesitated as she reached into the kitchen drawer. When further questioning revealed that I meant to carry out an exploratory autopsy on a dead rabbit I had found, she flatly refused me the loan of even a spoon. To this day, I am left wondering if a potentially brilliant career as a veterinary surgeon ended there and then.
But it was probably just as well. The proficiency in math that veterinary schooling requires was not my strong suit. Very often, school bored me. I might have fared better as a scholar if the rather dull Home Economics class had been replaced with a truly interesting course, say Barn Economics or Kennel Management 101. Had my teachers been wise, I could have been encouraged to love algebra at a tender age if only the math problems had been: "Seventeen zebras who left at noon are traveling west at nine miles an hour. Six lions who left at four o'clock are headed east at eight miles an hour. When will the zebras and lions meet, and how many zebras will be alive after that meeting?" The requisite cars, planes and trains usually invoked in these problems left me cold and disinterested.
BLESSED ARE THE BEASTS
Even my spiritual life was woven through with animals. Despite the emphasis our church placed on Jesus (who, I noted, did not even have a dog!), I felt a more natural alliance with Noah, my childhood hero.
(Jonah, having had such an intimate relationship with a whale, was another favorite of mine.) Given a Bible with a concordance, I immediately looked up every verse-and there are many-that contained mention of an animal: eagle, ass, horse, sparrow, lion, dog, sheep, lamb, cattle, goats, swine. I took to heart the notion that all of God's creatures were his creation, just as I was. As such, I assumed they were as welcome in Sunday school as any of the little children. And so it was that at a very tender age I had my first crisis of faith, which began with a coonhound I met on the way to church.
He was a grand dog, black with rusty tan, just the perfect size for draping a companionable arm across his back as we walked. And he was an agreeable dog. It took little effort to convince him to accompany me down the stairs and into my Sunday school class, where he settled politely next to my chair. How the teacher missed our entrance, I'll never know. I was not being secretive; it had yet to dawn on me that this was not a perfectly appropriate guest. In fact, I thought as I settled down to hear the day's Bible story, a dog and Sunday school was a heavenly combination.
Singing out the names for roll call, the teacher would glance up from her list to bestow a beaming smile on each child as they answered. "Suzanne?" she asked brightly, her teeth gleaming as she turned her head my way. Perhaps it is only in my imagination that she gasped and stepped backward; perhaps I've only dreamed of how her lips twitched and snarled with unspoken horror. At any rate, I do recall her question, "What is that dog doing here?" There was an unpleasant emphasis on the word dog. I thought it was fairly obvious and said so. "He's here for Sunday school."
Her response shook my innocent acceptance of the church's teachings: "He does not belong here."
I was dumbstruck. Doesn't belong? Isn't he one of God's creatures? Didn't God make him too? Surely Jesus would be glad to have a coonhound in church, especially one that wasn't bothering a soul. If I could bring this scene to life on film, I would cast an articulate, passionate child who, with tremendous presence, argues the dog's case, quoting Scripture so fast and furious that the teacher eventually bows to the greater command of the Bible as a weapon, yields to a deeper understanding of God's love for dogs, and allows the dog to stay. Unfortunately, I was not articulate in the face of wrath and could only weakly protest as I squirmed under her glare.
"He smells." With that final statement, the teacher revealed the limits of her love for all of God's creatures. (In retrospect, I realize that had I brought in a real leper with stinking bandages or a drunk down on his luck and reeking of the gutter, the teacher's Christian charity might have fled as quickly. But I am older now, and a touch more cynical.) I was outraged, and protested with vigor: The dog did not smell. Well, to be perfectly honest, he did not smell bad, he just smelled the way some dogs do. And that's how God made him!
My arguments fell on deaf ears. The teacher insisted that I take the dog outside and return, sans canine, to my chair. Sadly and slowly, I climbed the few stairs, opened the door and stood for a moment with this dog. I apologized to him, and though I lacked the words to express my deep sorrow at the powerlessness of being only five years old, I think he understood. He must have, for his power and mine were similar; his world was also full of larger, stronger people who set rules that had to be obeyed. I hugged him-the memory of that warm, slightly greasy black coat, of that rich musky dog scent has stayed with me all these years-and he leaned into me, wagging his tail. With tears in my eyes and newfound doubt in my heart, I left him standing in the sunshine and returned to Sunday school, infinitely older and wiser.
LOVE ME, LOVE MY BEETLE
How people interacted with and reacted to animals was endlessly educational. I learned, for instance, that many adults were not nearly as brave as they seemed. The summer that I was ten, I carried a coffee can with me at all times.
Excerpted from Bones Would Rain from the Sky by Suzanne Clothier Copyright © 2005 by Suzanne Clothier. Excerpted by permission.
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