How to Write a Loving Tribute to Your Pet
By Maggie Worrix King
English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning not only wrote sonnets to her husband, Robert, but she also penned a love poem to her pooch. The dog was a great comfort to Elizabeth, who was an invalid and housebound, and her poem To Flush, My Dog was a tribute to her beloved cocker spaniel.
My idea for creating a loving tribute to our pets through writing came to me one morning while I was drinking coffee at JJ’s Sweet Shoppe in Dallas, Oregon. One of my favorite things, besides the vanilla cream donuts, is to eavesdrop on the old farmers who hang out there. They mainly talk about tractors, the weather, and why Japan is buying up all the hay. One day, though, one guy started talking about somebody named Fern. (I really perked up then because Fern is my mom’s name).
At first I thought maybe Fern was his wife or something because he spoke about her in such a loving tone. I finally figured out Fern was his dog, though, when he started talking about picking ticks off her! As I kept on listening, the farmer joked about Fern watching All My Children with him everyday when they came in from the fields for lunch. Fern was a border collie who loved peanut butter and banana sandwiches and having her belly scratched.
Hearing the farmer talk about Fern made me realize how important dogs are in my own life. Some of my closest friends are canine! I have three dogs of my own -- including an 11-year-old yellow lab named Jessie. She’s getting old with arthritis and I know someday I’m going to have to let her go. That big sweet dog has spent her entire life loving me with all her doggie heart. Writing is a way to create a lasting tribute to Jessie -- and I want to show other animal lovers how they can honor and remember their pets, too.
Getting Ready to Write Your Tribute:
I used to be a dog groomer years ago and kept my clippers and slicker brushes in a metallic green tool box. Since I have Wash and Wear dogs now (dogs that require no-fuss grooming) I don’t open that old metal box much anymore. However, as a dog writer I keep my writing tool box well stocked.
My writing tool box (which is actually a plastic tote) includes:
Bright Ideas Notebooks: these are cheap spiral notebooks. I stock up every Fall when the stores have their Back-to-School sales. I like the ones with critters on the covers. You need to haul your notebook around with you everywhere and be ready. Some ideas you’ll have to chase down like a dog that slipped it’s collar -- others will come up and bite you on the leg!
Pens: I love my trusty ballpoint pens, of course, but I like gel pens, too. They come in a rainbow assortment of colors, and add splashes of color to the pages of my notebooks.
Other Tools: Colored pencils, crayons, watercolor paints, and stickers are also a fun way to jazz up the pages of my notebook.
Okay, I’m ready to write…now what?
Have you ever had a neighbor whose dog yapped its fool head off day and night? You’re trying to sleep..yap, yap, yap. You’re trying to work on your computer…yap, yap, yap. It’s a cute little dog…but that annoying yapping makes ya wanna take the Little Yapper and punt kick him to the moon!
My Inner Critic is like that Little Yapper. Whenever I try to write he comes and yaps in my ear. Yap, yap, yap. He yaps things like, Magz, don’t write about punt kicking a defenseless little dog to the moon. People will get the wrong idea. Okay, since I love animals (even Little Yappers) and wouldn’t do them bodily harm, then I have to find a way to make him hush. I need to toss the Little Yapper a big rawhide chewie and while his mouth is busy (gnawing contentedly) I can get stuff written.
Hush the Little Yapper using Free Writing:
I first discovered free writing back in 1986 when I read Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones. Basically, free writing is like a dog race. You set a timer and write as fast as you can (like a greyhound) until the timer dings (race over). Free writing is the best way I know to quiet the Little Yapper. You’re so busy getting words quickly on the page you don’t have time to listen to that annoying yap, yap, yap. Besides, the Little Yapper isn’t a bad dog, really…just a noisy pooch who misses his mom. He just needs some lap time to have his tummy scratched.
Puppy Love at First Sight:
Do a 5-minute free write about the first time you met your pet (either when you brought her home as a pup or when you adopted her from the animal shelter, etc.,).
I first met Jess when a friend and I went to look at some neighbor’s puppies. Jess’s mom was a pretty yellow lab and her dad was rumored to be a black lab-- a travelin’ man, so to speak. The litter was large -- nine pups in all. Five yellows and four blacks. Jessie was only 6 weeks old and she smelled like puppy breath. I couldn’t take her home for another 4 weeks but I’d go and visit her after work. Jessie was a surprise for my husband. (Yeah, I know - giving my sweetie a dog is like a preschooler giving mom a Ninja Turtle for Mother’s Day).
A Rover By Any Other Name Smells Just as Doggie:
Write about your pet’s name. Lots of pet lovers do it, but naming your dog Nip or Digger or Snarla never seems like a good idea. My ex-mother-in-law named her puppy Chewpee ‘cause if the pup wasn’t chewin’, it was peein’! I named Jessie before I even met her. My husband had a special childhood dog named Jessie and my favorite dog name has always been Juno -- so I christened her Jessie Juno.
Puppy Breath and Puppy Puddles:
Do a 5-minute free write on your pet’s first day in your home. How big was she? Was she the runt of the litter -- or the bruiser? Did she smell like puppy breath…and did she leave warm puppy puddles on your carpet?
That first day when I brought 10-week-old Jessie home she seemed a little scared and bewildered. Since she was a gift for my husband I tied a huge red bow around her neck. I kept her in a puppy playpen down stairs with toys until he came home from work. When he came in, I told him to sit down and close his eyes ‘cause I had a surprise.
He Brailled her at first, his eyes still closed, and gently touched her ears, paws, and wiggly body. She slurped his chin, happily, and snuggled against his neck with her cold nose. It was love at first lick for this dog and her boy!
Create a Puppy Page:
Scrapbookers love to create keepsake baby pages. They are popular with human parents, and pet parents love them, too. Write about…
My Puppy’s Favorite Toy:
Favorite place to nap:
Naughtiest thing my puppy did:
Vacuum Cleaners and Trips to the Veterinarian:
My dog, Jess, has two big fears: the Kirby Upright and our veterinarian, Dr. Keck. Write about a time you took your pooch to the vet’s when she was sick or hurt.
Doggie Birthday Parties:
Write about the most outrageous thing you’ve done for your pet…such as throwing a birthday party for Rover and inviting all the neighborhood pooches over to celebrate…or how about the time you entered your dog’s name in Ed McMahon’s Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes…
Silly Pet Tricks:
Write about training your pet. Did you enroll her in puppy kindergarten classes? Or home school by teaching her good leash manners in the back yard? Does your pooch do parlor tricks when company comes over -- like balancing a dog biscuit on her nose?
What My Dog Taught Me:
Jessie is a wise old soul in a dog suit. Okay, maybe she’s an old clown soul. Less Mother Theresa and more Chuckles the Clown. She does, however, teach me endlessly about unconditional love. Jess doesn’t give a hoot that I’m fat, drive an old beater, etc., -- she just loves me. With all her heart. Labs should be called Love-adore Retrievers! What have you learned from your dog about life and love? Write about it…
Writing about our pets may not inspire love sonnets like Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her dog, Flush, but writing down anecdotes and thoughts about our four-footed friends will keep our memories warm and alive for many years to come.