“Later, the dogs were with their masters, protecting them with loving looks, and later still they were dead, and little stelae sprouted up in the clearing to commemorate love, walks in the sunshine, and shared joy. ” —Michel Houellebecq, The Possibility of an Island
The stelae are on the Île des Ravageurs, just upstream from where Seurat painted his bathers and Van Gogh his fishers, and where, a few years later, for five francs, you could bury a dog in a common grave.
Fifty francs bought your pet its own plot and a decade of peace. A hundred bought it 30 years.
Today, a burial costs about a grand and a year between €150 to €300, depending on the beast’s bulk. Twenty years costs €4,000.
Many thousands have been thus disbursed; and under the jumble of kitch-enriched tombs fanning out willy-nilly from the cemetery gate, animals from every corner of their kingdom enjoy paid repose: dogs, cats, horses, fish, tortoises, lions, cows, rabbits, mice, hamsters, calves, pigs, guinea pigs, hens, sheep, lemurs, a fennec, maybe a leopard, and a bee.
"It's a bit like Disneyland,” a cemetery security guard likes to tell visitors, “except that Mickey is dead.”
“No dog was forgotten: their embossed photos decorated the stelae at the foot of which the masters had left their favourite toys.” —Michel Houellebecq, The Possibility of an Island
If you take a hard left at the cemetery entrance and, following the Seine, walk about three-quarters of the way down the length of the burial ground, past tombstones and grave markers covered with squeaky toys, chew toys, plush toys and throwing balls, past the 1930s movie star Rin Tin Tin and Barry the 19th-century chien sauveteur (“He saved the lives of 40 people, he was killed by the 41st”), past Moustache the Napoleonic soldier dog (“Lost a leg at Austerlitz and saved the regimental flag”), past the beloved beasts of Jean Cocteau and Sacha Guitry, and Sully, Alexandre Dumas’s cat, you’ll arrive at the toyless, joyless tomb of Michel Houellebecq’s best friend, Clement.
“On March 25, 2011 in the middle of the night, Your heart stopped beating And the world became duller. Sleep, my little man. ____ What great escapades How much love Thank you little Clement”.
* * *
“The more I know of men, the more I love my dog.”
“Disappointed by the world, never by my dog.”
“Faithful companion and only friend of my wandering and desolate life.”
“Rather than going to paradise without her, I prefer to join her in hell forever.”
* * *
I have never given much serious thought to what I would like done with my own remains. Cremation? Biodegradable coffin? Full nine-organ donation? “Dress me in my best suit and leave me out with the trash,” I often tell my family. They think I’m joking. But why not? In Paris, you can make a “demande d’enlèvement d’encombrants” (“request for removal of bulky items”) and the city will come and pick it up for free—as long as your itemised bulkiness is no larger than 3 cubic metres and you’ve pinned the assigned 11-digit pick-up code to its lapel.
Nor have I any idea what post-mortem pith I would like plaqued to the wall of my apartment building, or, should more conventional minds prevail, carved into my tombstone or crematorium niche. Just as I can think of no symbol, word or phrase I would like permanently inscribed upon my still-living skin. I’ve never seen a tattoo that I thought worthy of the needle. But I understand the attraction. The body as canvas, parchment, pamphlet, marquee, billboard. Or stela.
I know three men who have had the name of a significant other—wife, girlfriend—tattooed on a limb. And then, when the relationships soured, had the tattoos removed or redacted—blotted out with a block of black ink.
But a couple I know recently had the name of their dog tattooed on their limbs—his leg, her arm.
This makes more sense. The chance of their affection for the dog ever souring is unlikely. Dog love outlasts dog life. As does, we are told, dog affection for humans.
Trigger warning. Actually, Trigger was a horse, and this is about a dog, one of 9,500,004 listed in the most recent French census, but the only one that I’ve ever cared for, or, if you will, loved, and—here comes the triggering bit—it died, a month ago, alone behind the glass door of a veterinary cage 12 hours after being run over by an SUV in plain sight of dozens of witnesses: people drinking apéritifs at the sidewalk cafés on both sides of the street on which we live; those serving them; the distraught driver; my daughter and my wife, both shrieking, weeping, inconsolable; and myself, who didn’t, and hasn’t, as yet, in public or private, shed a single tear for this very dear little friend of mine.
If you stop reading here, I’ll understand. I’d probably do likewise. Life is rife enough of late without someone else’s dead dog being added to the pyre.
But I’ll keep going. Dry-eyed. Too emotionally stunted to shed even a single manly tear for a beloved pet. Is this true? Further indication of my sadly conventional suck-it-upping masculinity: my use of “it”—the most impersonal of personal pronouns—to designate a very close member of my immediate family. It died? It? Who does that? Not even Freud, who was famous for calling un chat a chat, and, sometimes, a cigar a cigar, but who, during just a six-month separation from his Chinese chow, Jofi, wrote in a letter to Lou Andreas-Salomé: “I miss her now almost as much as my cigar. She is a charming creature, so interesting in her feminine characteristics, too. Wild, impulsive, intelligent and yet not so dependent as dogs often are.”
Almost as much as his cigar. To be fair, Freud lived at a time when genders, like cigars,—or cats and dogs for that matter—were sometimes just genders, cigars, cats and dogs, not psychological, or, in the case of genders, sociocultural, hot potatoes. Discrimination and inequality, as we are rightly told today, are reflected and reinforced by language. Gender-sensitive precision is therefore the proper path to a better world. “It” then it was and is, this dog, my dog, and all dogs, because, well, technically, dogs don’t have genders. They have sexes. Except, in my dog’s case, after a visit to a strip mall in Vancouver in 2019, on the very last day of our summer vacation, just hours before our flight back to Paris, it didn’t have one of those, either.
“I love you, but, because, inexplicably, I love in you something more than you… I mutilate you.”—Jacques Lacan
Ouch. Never before in my life have I come even remotely close to quoting the French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Jacques Lacan. Who, besides being deliberately turgid and obscurantist, was, by all accounts, a dick. And who, btw, had a much-beloved bitch, Justine, named after the sex-slave in the Marquis de Sade's book by the same title.
JACQUES LACAN (a dog walks across the stage in the lecture hall) —I’ll talk about my muse, who is one of those (nodding his head in the direction of the dog). She's the only person I know who knows what she's talking about. I'm not talking about what she's saying—it's not that she's not saying anything: she's just not saying it with words. She says something when she has anxiety—it happens—she puts her head in my lap. She knows I'm going to die, which a number of people know, too. Her name is Justine.
INTERVENTION—Hey, what the hell? He’s talking about his dog!
JACQUES LACAN—She is my dog, she is very beautiful and… the only thing she lacks, compared to the one who walks her, is not having gone to university.
Before we get anywhere near any of that, or to the sequence of events that led to the reproductive silencing of my dog in a strip mall in Vancouver in 2019, or to any attempt to explain why 80% of dogs in Canada and only 20% in France are “fixed”, let me back digress first further into the more Freudian-friendly turf I was on earlier: is the male resistance to weeping a pathology?
Homer’s heroes didn’t suffer from it:
The dog Argos lay there, covered in ticks. As soon as he realized it was Odysseus, he wagged his tail and flattened his ears, but he lacked the strength to get up and go to his master. Odysseus wiped away a tear.
So why do I suffer from it? I wish I were the potter on TV my wife and daughter admire, who cries when he sees a well-proportioned teapot. But, alas, I cannot, due to social conditioning, perhaps, or a repressed personality, or too much testosterone, or not enough prolactin.
“Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean.” If humans are the only animals that cry, am I then nonhuman? When my dog died, well, of course, yes, I welled. And still do. As I did and do for my dead father and mother; and for many dear friends, and as I do whenever I hear “Ghost Town”, which came out the same week my brother died, and is forever linked in ear and heart with his passing. As are Jim Byrnes’ version of “Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues” and Jesse Winchester’s “Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding”, the latter my brother’s favourite song (I don’t think he would have cared much for the Kanye), which Jim sang on the porch at my brother’s memorial.
Or, as I do at each viewing of Babe, when, near the end, the protagonist, a pig, walks six sheep through their shepherded paces, and their owner, a tough, taciturn, emotionally reserved farmer—much like myself, I like to think, except taller, thinner, and Australian—closes the paddock door behind them, and the astonished, wholly hushed crowd of spectators in the stands leaps to their feet and roars with joy.
This, for me, I am not embarrassed to say, is the most affective scene in all cinema.
No opening of the floodgates, however.
Which is strange, no?
“Who will write the history of tears? In which societies, in which periods, have we wept? Since when is it that men (and not women) no longer cry?”—Roland Barthes
Freud believed that the stimulation of the lacrimal gland relieved the brain from accumulated stress. But like me, he never cried. Yet, when, in August 1929, while returning from Berchtesgaden to Vienna, his first dog, a chow named Lün-Yu, pulled free from the leash and ran directly into the path of an oncoming train, Freud was devastated by grief, which he compared to that which he had felt after the death of his favourite daughter, Sophie, seven years before.
“We know that the sharp pain we feel right after a loss will run its course, but it will always be inconsolable, and we will never find a substitute. Whatever happens, whatever we do, the pain will always be there. And that's how it should be. It's the only way to make a love that we don't want to give up last.”
This, I feel, especially right now, a short month after my own little dog’s death, is a very wise and accurate description of grief’s keen sting.
Seven months after Lün-Yu’s death, a substitute was found — her sister Jofi.
Of course, no substitute could ever be found for his daughter Sophie. When, three years after her death, her son Heinele died, Freud wrote in a letter to Ludwig Binswanger, “For me, that child took the place of all my children and other grandchildren, and since then, since Heinele's death, I have no longer cared for my grandchildren, but find no enjoyment in life either.” Two years later, to Ernest Jones: “Sophie was a dear daughter, to be sure, but not a child… when little Heinele died, I became tired of life permanently.”
And then he got that first dog. From Peter Gay’s Freud: A Life for Our Time:
[ The] gift could not have been better chosen: in June, Freud reported to Eitingon that he had “a charming Chinese bitch, a chow, which is giving us much pleasure.” … From then on, Freud and a succession of chows, especially his Jofi, were inseparable. The dog would sit quietly at the foot of the couch during the analytic hour.
All was not gloom, then.
* * *
Q: How many running-dog lackeys of the bourgeoisie does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two. One to exploit the proletariat, and one to control the means of production.
The French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, who sought to create a “libidinal economics” by marxing Freud and freuding Marx, broke with both thinkers, and their teacher Lacan, in part, it could be argued, because of their “bourgeois” affections for domesticated animals.
For Marx too, as Marian Comyn tell us, “was fond of dogs”:
[His] three small animals of no particular breed—of a mixture of many breeds indeed—formed important members of the household. One was called Toddy, another Whisky—the name of the third I forget, but I fancy that, too, was alcoholic. They were all three sociable little beasts, ever ready for a romp, and very affectionate. One day, after an absence of six weeks in Scotland, I went to see Eleanor and found her with her father in the drawing-room, playing with Whisky. Whisky at once transferred his attentions to me, greeting me with ebullient friendliness, but almost immediately he ran to the door and whined to have it opened for him.
Eleanor said: 'He has gone down to Toddy, who has just presented him with some puppies.
She had hardly finished speaking before there was a scratching and scrambling in tile hall, and in bounded Whisky, shepherding Toddy. The little mother made straight for me, exchanged affabilities in friendly fashion, then hurried back to her family. Whisky meanwhile stood on the rug, wagging a proudly contented tail, and looking from one to the other, as who should say: 'See how well I know how to do the right thing.'
Dr. Marx was much impressed by this exhibition of canine intelligence. He observed that it was clear the dog had gone downstairs to tell his little mate an old friend had arrived, and it was her bounden duty to come and pay her respects without delay. Toddy, like an exemplary wife, had torn herself away from her squealing babies, in order to do his bidding.
* * *
A lover pays his court where his heart has taken root; he aims at gaining every one’s favour in that spot; and so as to have no one opposed to his flame, even the very house-dog he strives to please. —Molière, Femmes savantes
Deleuze & Guattari sneered at this neutered, domesticated, mawkish love for the “dog in the kennel, the analyst’s bow wow”:
Individuated animals, family pets, sentimental, Oedipal animals each with its own petty history, ‘my' cat, 'my' dog. These animals invite us to regress, draw us into a narcissistic contemplation, and they are the only kind of animal psychoanalysis understands, the better to discover a daddy, a mommy, a little brother behind them… : anyone who likes cats or dogs is a fool.
D&G thought that by becoming animal, not the domesticated or state-controlled versions but the wildest species, humankind could unleash itself from patrilineal capitalism and imperialism.
The wolf. Part of a pack. Free of all organisations, all genealogies and identities. Transformed but not assimilated, the equal of every beast, neither superior nor inferior, nose to the ground not the grindstone, on the hunt for all multiplicities of desire.
Why do the D&Gs of the world have all this scorn for the lowly dog and and the “little house dogs” that “own” them? Or the “little cat or dog owned by an elderly woman who honours and cherishes it?”
Donna Haraway, the pet-friendliest of philosophers:
The old, female, small, dog- and cat-loving: these are who and what must be vomited out by those who will become-animal. Despite the keen competition, I am not sure I can find in philosophy a clearer display of misogyny, fear of aging, incuriosity about animals, and horror at the ordinariness of flesh, here covered by the alibi of an anti-Oedipal and anticapitalist project. It took some nerve for D&G to write about becoming-woman just a few pages later!
My dog. My friend. My daughter, my wife, my family.
My my my. You see the pattern. My my my. Few things throw the possessive reflex more into relief than the presence in one’s complicated life of a complicated companion animal.
And, then, its sudden, devastating absence.
It was not my first dog. The first, actually my sister’s dog, was Abe, short for Abraham, a male German Shepherd-Siberian Husky cross—a Shepsky, and today, a scant memory set. Reinforced by only one very blurry photo. But whose face, whose entire colossal head, I can visualise better than I can my mother’s or my father’s.
Abe never died. Abe was “taken to a farm.” When I was ten years old. After having bitten a neighbour. Or so I was told, and so I chose to believe. The separation was painful, but much less so than with this dog, my closest friend for the last nine years, whose death scene did not take place, like Abe’s, following ancient Greek conventions, “ob skené”, —“off-stage”—but obscenely (“a scene that should not be seen in the light of day”) on my sunlit street, hit by a car, as we always knew it would, on the theatrical proscenium just beyond our front door, a tragedie sur quatre pattes before a full gallery of spectators.
* * *
These are the ashes Of all the fire that blazed for us. Of those big eyes, so full of faith and love, That muzzle where my heart drowned.
— Charles Baudelaire, Un Fantôme
Most of my dog’s ashes will be spread in Paris, where it spent most of its nine years inside our apartment, asleep in its bed or next to me on the couch.
Or waiting, nose on full alert, for the next person, perhaps still as far as half a block away—such was its olfactory powers—to knock on the front door.
The Paris ashes will be discreetly spread in a nearby park, where it chased down tennis balls and crabapples. The remaining remains were divided in two and shot from a cannon and buried under a tree, next to those of a dachshund named David and another named Lorraine, three days ago in Bamfield, British Columbia, where it spent most of its summer vacations—at the beach barking at waves, or in the rainforest herding people and flushing out bears.
Hard to believe that a dachshund barely the size of a plucked chicken could flush out a bear. Yet it did. Thrice. The little snout would lift, collecting molecular whiffs of the animal’s stench, and off it would scrabble full throttle on its four stubby legs, barking, snarling, driven by instinct, not a doubt of its outsized capacities in its tiny head.
For this absurdly legged, long-torsoed beast was first warrior class, bred to slide under and disembowel wild boar, to lunge headfirst into badger holes, sink its canines into the larger animal’s flesh, and hold on till the hunter pulled them both out by its tail.
But then, four years ago, we took him to the strip mall. And a half day or so later, head cleared of sedative and all traces of traumatic pain and testicular possession, it was back home in Paris.
Which for many reasons, I’m sure, it found confusing.
First because, though it was incapable of thinking causally—no amount of stern tone could make it link the sternness with its own actions or behaviour: wildly barking at the sight of the leash; shitting or peeing when and where it shouldn’t; eating garbage; humping the wrong species—first because, the afternoon before, in the backseat of my sister’s car on the car deck of a BC Ferry, it had bitten the hand that fed him — his mistress’s, for which it was most sternly reprimanded.
A few hours later, upon arrival in darkness at my sister’s house in Vancouver, it leapt barking and snarling from the car the moment the door opened, raced past the darkened hedge into the pitch-blackness of the front yard, and there let out an unearthly, long-pitched death squeal so horrifying I had no choice but to stumble in after it, into that same darkness, broken only by the two shining eyes of a giant racoon reared up on its powerful haunches, the dog’s blood no doubt dripping from its brandished claws, the dog nowhere to be seen but still shrieking in the bushes, mortally or caninally or whatever the canine-equivalency for mortally wounded is—and I lunging full force at the hissing beast with my backpack, a giant swinging lunge that grazed the side of its its head and sent me over the side of the stone steps with the follow-through, leg and arm scratched and bleeding, lying on the ground in the darkness exposed to the raised claws of the beast, which dropped to all fours, made a contemptuous clicking sound with its teeth, turned its head, and disappeared into the night.
Then the still-shrieking dog emerged from the bushes.
Except sheared of a micro-millimetre of snout tip.
The next morning, he lost his nuts.
Or rather, he was relieved of them. A day later, after 13 sedated hours confined in a small, soft-walled box, most of it under the seat in front of me in an Air Transat Airbus 321, he was back in Paris, still puzzling over his recent befallments.
Was this punishment for the bite, or for the curious incident of the beast in the nighttime? Did it ask itself such questions? Probably not. Existential queries did however most surely arise. For example, why? Why are my nuts not there? Who or what removed them? And who or what was that beast that sliced away the tip of my snout?
To the first, if it queried directly, I would have answered that the strip-mall visit that morning was on the advice, which sounded sound at the time, of an animal-loving Bamphibian concerned by the dog’s temperament, disposition and randiness. So concerned that she had offered to do the deed with her teeth, as she had done to and for countless sheep in Australia during a previous chapter of her life.
“It is for his own good,” she said, using the possessive determiner commonly used at the time. “It will make him less aggressive.”
For it had already, a few months before, badly bitten the same hand of the same mistress, requiring surgery to prevent infection from spreading up her arm, potentially to her heart. Two years before it had nipped the petting hand of a Huu-ay-aht toddler. In between, it had bared his teeth at two small Parisian children. It was getting more bellicose around other dogs, and would mount, or attempt to mount, the legs of friends—usually the best-looking young metrosexual male in the room — until, exhausted by its excited exertions, it would deposit sausage-like piles of bilious vomit on the floor of our apartment, ghostly white and flecked with detested kibble.
The detested kibble.
Though very fond of all manner of meat, fish and cheese and even some fruit and vegetables, this dog couldn’t eat any of them as it had chronically high levels of uric acid in its blood—dog gout—so severe that our Parisian vet condemned it to a dismally monotrophic diet of Royal Canin Veterinary Urinary S/O (“Struvite Oxalate”) Small Dog dry kibble.
It loathed every mouthful. But this is all it ever ate for the last six years of its life. Except for what scraps it could find in gutters, lick off the kitchen floor, or beg from diners on the sidewalk patios on both sides of our street.
Which explains why, a month ago, what happened to it happened to it.
More on that later. First, another question. Did I own it, this fur-bearing friend? Hardly. It ran the show. The apartment was its lair, the street its territory, the family its private staff. As the biologist Stephen Budiansky puts it:
Dogs belong to that elite group of con artists at the very pinnacle of their profession, the ones who pick our pockets clean and leave us smiling about it. Dogs take from the rich, they take from the poor, and they keep it all. They lie on top of the air-conditioning vent in the summer, they curl up in front of the fireplace in winter, they commit outrages upon our property too varied and unspeakable to name. They decide when we may go to bed at night and when we must rise in the morning, where we may go on vacation and for how long, whom we may invite over to dinner, and how we should decorate our living rooms. They steal the very bread from our plates. (I am thinking here of a certain collie I used to have whose specialty actually was toast.) If we had a roommate who behaved like this, we'd be calling a lawyer, or the police.
Budiansky’s is not the usual view. Most dog people (formerly known as dog owners) over-anthromorphisizing, see their dog as an outpouring, fathomless vessel of unconditional love; or, like Houellebecq, the misanthropic French writer quoted at the outset, as a “machine for loving:”
“Goodness, compassion, fidelity, and altruism therefore remain for us impenetrable mysteries, contained, however, within the limited space of the corporeal exterior of a dog… Through these dogs we pay homage to love, and to its possibility. What is a dog but a machine for loving? You introduce him to a human being, giving him the mission to love—and however ugly, perverse, deformed, or stupid this human being might be, the dog loves him. This characteristic was so surprising, so striking for the humans of the previous race that most of them—all testimonies agree on this point—came to love the dog back.
Cat people (most of whom would never dream of calling themselves cat “owners”), like the three French philosophers above, scornful of Fido’s fidelity, view dogs as dogsbodies, submissive, cowardly, abject. The cat-fancying French fabulist Jean La Fontaine is exemplary of this species: revisiting Aesop, he expressed his love of liberty through his contempt for the willingly subjugated canine, who, unlike the lean, prowling wolf, exchanges its self-dignity for a collar and chain and “all manner of well-cooked meat—cold pullets, pigeons, savoury messes—besides unnumbered fond caresses.”
“Chain! chain you! What! run you not, then, Just where you please and when?” “Not always, sir; but what of that?” “Enough for me, to spoil your fat! It ought to be a precious price Which could to servile chains entice; For me, I’ll shun them while I’ve wit.” So ran the Wolf, and runneth yet.
And runneth yet the Wolf still, almost to its extinction. While the Dog idles on the couch, eats from its bowl, has its poop thrice daily scooped, begs for cold pullet and wags its tail at the door.
But enough of it. Let’s give it its name.
“The name: what does one call it? What is meant by the name of name? And what happens when we give a name? What do we give then?” —Jacques Derrida
Onomastics is the study of the history and origin of proper names, especially personal names, and its fundamental unit is the orthonym, the name—the “real name”—of the object of onomastic study.
Now, a dog is hardly an object, though in France, until 1976 and before that all the way back to Napoleon, was considered a bien meuble—“moveable property”, meaning it had the same legal status as a chair.
In fact, it still does. Article 515-14 of the Code Civil, which the French National Assembly passed in 2015, and which defines animals as “living, sentient beings subject to the laws that protect them,” but also “subject to regulations governing property.”
This is of course the case almost everywhere, with few exceptions. India, for example, has bestowed personhood on whales, dolphins and porpoises. Others elsewhere, increasingly aware of animal intelligence and emotional capability, seek to grant personhood to all animals. And politicians and judges in India and the United States have successfully given it to corporations. But enough pettifogging, it—this dog, my dog, our dog—nine-years-old on the night of its undoing, was initially named Ignatz, after the brick-throwing mouse in Krazy Kat.
“There are some who call me… Tim?”
However, “Ignatz” proved a placeholder, a name contractually imposed upon us by the woman who bred Ignatz, just as she had bred Ignatz’s father, Izac, and Ignatz’s grandfather, Izac (who, I fear, after looking more closely at our new dog’s breeding records, might have been the same Izac as the other Izac): the name, she told us, had to start with an I, as this was the first letter of all males in Ignatz’s looping lineage. A few days later, however, Ignatz became Tim, not after the above-quoted Tim the Enchanter in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but after my sister’s partner Tim. But that only lasted a few hours. The next name, Ringo, chosen by my youngest daughter, and based, not on the Beatle, but on the gunslinger, stuck.
RINGO (BALLAD OF A GUNFIGHTER) I blocked the path of his retreat He turned and stepped into the street A dozen guns spit fire and lead A moment later, he lay dead The town began to shout and cheer Nowhere was there shed a tear for Ringo (Ringo... Ringo... ) The story spread throughout the land That I had beaten Ringo's hand And it was just the years, they say That made me put my guns away But on his grave they can't explain The tarnished star above the name of Ringo (Ringo... Ringo... ) (Ringo... Ringo... )
Ringo it was then.
Ringo the runt. The only one in the litter that looked up at us from the kennel cage, lifted its little paws up towards us and gave our fingers a lick.
Ringo. This was the name on the tattoo under its ear and on the microchip injected in its neck skin.
And this is the name that will be engraved on a copper plaque on the tree next to where a few grams of his ashes are buried, next to David and Lorraine, and just up from the ocean bay where it liked to hunt crab and chase stick, rock and bear.
And yes, I did mention a cannon.
The powder was wet…
But I think Ringo would have appreciated going out not with a bang but a sigh and a piffle. He was a modest dog, of modest proportions.
And he would have howled with pleasure during each rousing chorus of "The Ballad of Ringo", composed for the occasion, by Ben Morris, Otis Jordan and Zola Mooney.
It was a stormy day on the Bamfield shore When the waves shook the walls of the General Store And the fish flew as high as a bird. A figure stood on the Lady Rose And as the lightning crashes and the wind blows, The whisper of a name can be heard: Ringo. (Ringo...) The figure, he was stoic and strong, Legs short and body long, Hair brown and his eyes the same. Standing proud at one foot one, As naked as the morning sun, Was the man with that name: Ringo. (Ringo...) Thus began The legend of the man, Known as Ringo. (Ringo!) The ladies couldn't help but swoon When they saw him hunting a raccoon, They loved the rebel randy buck. And after such a mighty fight, He would hump everything in sight. Made many man a cuck, did Ringo. (Ringo...) A family man (he was inbred), He left trails of piss where he tread, And the forest would tremble in fear. A man of heart, a man of passion, And when I say man I do mean dachshund. I should've been more clear about Ringo. (Ringo...) Out of the Bamfield fog Emerged a sausage dog Known as Ringo. (Ringo!) On one fateful summer's day, When he was swimming in Scott's Bay, Something was hungrily looking. It was a huge ursine beast Who wanted a sausage for its feast, And who better for cooking than Ringo. (Ringo...) With a fierce growl and slobbering jaw, The bear swung a giant paw at Ringo. (Ringo!) That should have been Ringo's demise But the bear saw something in Ringo's eyes That filled that great creature with dread. For it was clear that in that stare That it was not dog eat dog but dog eat bear, And the world was still as Ringo said: "Woof." And the bear was gone. Such was the dog’s might That a bear took flight In the face of Ringo. (Ringo!) And now Ringo has gone But we still sing the song of Ringo. (Ringo!) And now you must sing along All of us sing the song of Ringo. (Ringo!) (Ringo!) (RINGO!) — Ben Morris, The Ballad of Ringo
If you’re still reading, thank you for bearing with me.
I expect many left long ago. The death of a small dog doesn't amount to a hill of kibble in this crazy world. But he, it, Ringo, did indeed mean a world to me. The experts tell us that weeping is often performative and social, that sharing grief with others is more likely to make one cry than keeping it quietly to yourself.
Not so in my case.
But writing this has indeed softened the sting of those last cruel moments on the street, and helped me, to paraphrase Nahum Tate, to remember Ringo, but ah! forget Ringo’s fate.
* * *
Thank you for reading this, and thank you for continuing to support Hexagon.
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That’s all for now. I will leave you with two final images. The first is one of my favourite art dogs, the Italian Bracco in Gustave Courbet's painting of his great-uncle’s burial in Ornans, in September 1848. The painting is in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. On its own it is worth the price of admission (four cappuccinos).
Here’s a detail.
And here is the second, taken three days ago, of Butter—the dog of the tattoo—next to the resting places of Ringo, David and Lorraine.
Calling a female dog a bitch raises hackles in some circles, but it is the preferred nomenclature of Donna Haraway, whose The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness, and When Species Meet, are required reading for anyone seeking to situate our current place in the animals’ world.
Poetic license: “Mouth” (“bouche”) is the correct translation, not “muzzle” (“museau”). Baudelaire’s poem is not about a dog. Sorry, Charlie.
“So, what happened to me is what happens in many families. I was without cat, without dog, and here comes one of our children, of Fanny and myself, and in his small hands a cat no bigger than the small hands. He found it while we were in the countryside, in a barn or I don’t know what. And from this fatal moment, I have always had a cat at home. So, what do I find unpleasant in these animals? Well, it has never been a Calvary. I bear it. What do I find unpleasant? I do not like things that rub. A cat spends its time rubbing itself against you. I do not like that. A dog is another matter, what I fundamentally reproach dogs for is their bark. Barking seems to me the stupidest cry ever. God, there are many cries in nature; there is such a variety of cries. But barking is the shame of the animal kingdom. Nevertheless, I can bear it, on condition that it does not last too long.” — L’abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze
To hear“The Ballad of Ringo”, recorded live at the Bamfield Wreckage on August 17, send me a comment. I don’t have enough bandwidth in Bamfield to upload it to this post.
You've kept me up, wakened by jetlag but bleary and ready to fall asleep again and then unable to resist this encomiastic memoire about dear Ringo. Like you, I've still not shed a tear and yet there are few creatures on this earth of whom I was more fond. This is monumental and perhaps the greatest tribute I've ever read about anyone. Thank-you Chris for indeed being the animal Ringo undoubtedly knew you were. Sad not to have been in Bamfield to salute the part of him that was blasted from a cannon, I look forward to paying my respects at the Parisian chapter of his funerary rites. Love to you both always, GF
Nice work - again, Chris - touches all the bases of the heart - especially for a guy who once ran over his own beloved puppy. Forty years later, just last month, I was able to return for the first time (with my wife of that time) to Bix's burial place. The stone monument I constructed for him overlooking Cleggan Bay was still there and they both urged me to forgive myself....