By Gerard Nolan
Lincoln, my muse for this essay, reposes on the couch, staring at me as I sit at the computer. I’m trying to come up with an angle for what I hope will become an essay about the part of his life I know nothing about—his time on the lam before he was caught and placed in an animal shelter. But his current sedentary state isn’t providing much inspiration.
A car stops at the stop sign in front of my house. In retaliation, Lincoln pops up from the couch and charges the front window, emitting several ear-splitting barks in rapid succession, his hackles raised a full 90 degrees. He will repeat this ritual several times as the day wears on. And again tomorrow. I am fairly sure I have hearing damage.
Lincoln’s past is encircled in mystery. I happened upon him one afternoon when my dad and I were visiting an animal shelter to get our “dog fix”—shorthand for “we’re looking for a dog but don’t want to admit it.” I wanted a Labrador retriever. Our first dog, Beauty, was half Lab and in our estimation the best dog of all time. Lincoln, who was named Georgie in those days, had the face of a Lab. But he had the body of a refugee from a nation embroiled in an internecine conflict. He ribs protruded from his abdomen. His hair was mottled with brown patches. He was wasting away.
We took him for a walk in the expansive green space that surrounds the shelter. He didn’t pull the leash like other dogs, and he seemed more interested in interacting with my father and me than the grass or the trees. This was a good sign. He even met the most important criterion I use when picking out a dog: I was able to induce him to lie on his back without any resistance, which I’m told is a sign of docile, pliant dog.
When I returned him to his enclosure, the most curious thing occurred It was one of those flashbulb moments I’ll remember vividly for life. As I attempted to close the gate, he stretched out his body on the ground and wrapped his front legs around my left leg in a very tight, unrelenting embrace.
This essay was supposed to be a musing on a multitude of things, from philosophy to science to my imaginings of the inner workings of a dog’s mind. I wanted to lay bare the canine soul through several exclusive interviews with my dog, but he’s lying on the couch again. Sleepy. I suppose I could seek inspiration by describing him.
Lincoln’s an enigmatic creature. He is by turns brilliant, stupid, neurotic, playful, pensive, and lethargic. Mostly lethargic. Unless a car trundles by. Then he’s a roaring beast. The letter carrier is terrified of him. I tried to allay her fears this morning by telling her he’s really a kind animal who loves everyone. But I can’t blame her for trusting her first-hand experience of a ferocious dog lunging at the front window over my unconvincing attempts at reassurance.
Let’s see. Lincoln, like most dogs, is an outsize puppy. He enjoys eating snow—a new preoccupation of his—and he loves sprinting in the snow. He has a wonderfully symmetrical face. Iridescent brown eyes. Wispy whiskers. A deep chest. A glistening black nose. Lustrous black fur with a brown undercoat.
A few weeks later, after our application was approved, we took Lincoln home and later that day installed him as the official dog of the Nolan household. That night, however, his health began to deteriorate rapidly. By morning he lay, enervated by dehydration, on the floor of the a vet’s examination room.
To be continued…