He is the alpha and omega of my day. I rise not to birdsong or cathedral light angling through the curtain gaps. No, this sleeper’s wake comes from the crescendoing whimper of a starving dog at the foot of the bed. At night, I take him out for his last sniff of grass in search of the perfect latrine.
Shackleton is not my raison d’être (reason for being) so much as my raison d’être en retard (reason for being late). However short on time I am, I find time to scratch behind his floppy ears, massage his chest and tell him how good he is, even when he’s not. I sniff his paws and note their earthy pong. I tell him how handsome he is, the most handsome dog on the planet, the most handsome dog in the universe. Hyperbole relaxes him.
He is not universally loved, nor does he love the universe. Shackleton scoffs at the fundamental concept of democracy, that all men are created equal. Hierarchy exists. Some are more equal than others. His split-second character judgments are fallible and sometimes unfair. While not racist, my dog is not free from prejudice and barks relentlessly at those hobbled by a limp or bound to a wheelchair. For whom the tail wags, he is a lucky one.
Although Shackleton is a cradle-to-grave dependent I can’t write off my taxes, he earns his keep by plying several trades. Nature gave him a menacing bark and wary disposition and forged a talented watchdog. He watches over the house, the truck and even Miles, the cat. No squirrel or raccoon will ever break in. He obviates the need for therapy and Valium. When Meg is not around to hear me rant, I tell Shackleton about various asswipes I’ve encountered. So I’m at the PCC and I need a jump start.. I have the cables hooked up and all I need is one person to pull up beside me. First person I ask flat out says no and offers no excuse. Second pillock says he needs to shop first and maybe he’ll do it afterwards. The most handsome dog in the universe listens quietly and licks my face. It relaxes me.
When I hear a paw rattling a supperdish against the floor, I ask Meg if Shackleton has eaten. Half the time the answer is yes. I tell the liar he’s busted. He rattles the dish again. I admire how he sticks to his story. Whether it’s tug of war or his campaign for food, Shackleton rarely gives up. It’s as though he lives life by his namesake’s motto: “By endurance, we succeed.”
Shack is Greenland in the Mercator projection,
taking up more space than he should
on any given plane: the bed, the couch,
the entire kitchen floor.
Short for Shackleton (not Shaquille),
Shack barks at foil wrap and chases the aging cat
with the belly heading south.
Not to seem unworthy of a name,
this Labrador is drawn to polar themes,
snow and cold and ice,
and navigates by the sextant in his nose.
His beauty knows no vanity, his indulgences no guilt.
His water dish is always half full
and he wags his tail as if to quote Thoreau:
“The only wealth is life.”
He leaps for the ball, thrown by a human
bred for such tasks, until overcome with
retriever’s ennui and digs a hole to Elephant Island.