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Paw to the Paw to the Paw to the Paw, by Renée E. D’Aoust


People say dog paws smell like Fritos, but yours smell like dew, so light yet full of wet dirt. If ever a dog embodied the maxim to never give up—you do. For years, you have never given up jumping up. You have a body unable to leap onto our couch, our bed, my chair. Tootsie: you are our tube of fur, elongated into impossibility. How is it possible that you have the gumption of a Bernese Mountain Dog yet are shrink-wrapped small? Stumpy legs, chubby paws.

You’re a creature who waddles with a helicopter tail. A four-paw wonder. The sunspots on your eyebrows, the tan on your chest, the black of your body. A hot water bottle in the sun. Down low, you slam on your brakes, your paws Velcro to the ground, yet we celebrate your stubbornness.

“Good dog, Tootsie!” You stare back, sassy.

Our vet said, “You’ll be surprised how far those little legs can take her.”

High in the Swiss Alps, you never slam on your brakes. You wag at free-range milk cows, their bells ringing cacophony through the mountains. You talk to donkeys, their braying reverberating like alpenhorns: “Are you a hot dog?” “Are you an ass?”

Hikers say your harness makes you look like a purse—a yellow handle—but I say it is gear, mountain gear.

If I could draw like Nicole J. Georges, I would draw you, but what can I do?

If I could paint like David Hockney, I would paint you, but what can I do?

I touch your fur, your raggedy ears, your piggy belly. Hug your portable, pliable, personable body. You lick my elbow; it tickles. You nibble my thumb; it hurts. You are the sausage of my life.


We adopted you a year to the day after the Swiss-Italian nurse asked me: “Hai pensato all’adozione?” Have you thought about adoption?

She fixed my morphine drip. My uterus and its tumor, cut out. The tumor had webbed itself to the inner smooth muscle walls, a vineyard of pain.

Vorrei un cane piccolo. Troverò un cagnolino,” I said. I want a little dog. I will find a doggy.

Across an ocean, and a continent, in a different hospital, my mother had surgery the same day. She no longer had breasts, cancer had meant mastectomies for each breast in its time. Now the surgeon, trying to find every spot of the spreading sarcoma, cut, cut again, cut better. Sarcoma welts look like tiny bruised dots. They spread like root rot through her body.

Half of Mom’s chest wall was cut; the pathologist read the limits, her life sentence, in real time. My mom—a carving block. Her thigh offered skin to borrow. So much cutting, everywhere. The carving of women’s bodies, the art of it.

Cancer devours my mother, and she dies. I sit dogless for months until Tootsie waddles into our lives, and we adopt her.

Nicole J. Georges writes that her dog “Beija loved me even when I lapsed in loving myself.”

David Hockney argues that “dogs are generally not interested in Art [because] food and love dominate their lives.”

Are cuddles a subgenre of art? Of love?

Tootsie: you here, panting in my face. Today, your breath smells like vanilla mint. Your favorite toothpaste flavor. Yesterday, your breath smelled like banana after Dachshund Daddy fed you two pieces. Munch, munch. And tomorrow?

Tomorrow we will eat and wag, and walk and wag, and be.

  • Writer and teacher Renée E. D'Aoust is the author of Body of a Dancer (Etruscan Press). Her writing also appears in numerous journals and has been widely anthologized. D'Aoust teaches online at Casper College and North Idaho College. She lives in Switzerland. Follow her @idahobuzzy, where she tweets about writing and her miniature dachshund, Tootsie.

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