On Being She Who Runs with the Dachshunds

laura sweeney  


Three things make life bearable, hope, jokes, and dogs, but the greatest of these is dogs.

(Robyn Davidson)

Dogs. Big big big believer. No wonder I’ve saved the book Women Who Run with the Wolves, a beaten paperback copy of a feminist classic I’ve never finished reading, stashed on my shelves, corners dogeared and crumpled. A gift from my father from whom I am estranged due to my parent’s divorce and his epilepsy which rendered him a recluse, permanently disabled for much of his life. This book and a tattered poster of the poem “Desiderata” are the only surviving documents I have from him. Faithful travel companions. Almost as faithful as my beloved dachshund tribe.

As a young girl the dog with whom I was raised was named Soot, a cross between a dachshund and a terrier. The story goes I learned how to walk by chasing Soot’s tail. And also that I had a propensity for eating dog food out of Soot’s dish. Soot was a fine black color like you’d find in chimneys as a chimney sweep though my two-story house on Water Street built circa 1908 didn’t have a fireplace or many amenities for that matter. For entertainment I’d peek through my neighbor’s fence and watch them dive naked and drunk into their swimming pool. And sometimes I’d be lucky and the lady living across from those neighbors would babysit me. I’d feast on stacks of pancakes dripping with maple syrup and play with her pack of dachshunds.

After Soot’s passing, put down at a ripe age of 14, my grandparents’ German shorthaired pointer was the dog in my life. Jeremy helped deliver papers on my paper route. Until one day he was hit by a car. Not life threatening but seeing his eyes roll back into his head was likely my first car accident trauma. Then as I moved from high school onto college, from town to town and school to school, struggling to find my true north, I was dogless for years. Until one day losing my job and my mind in the Great Recession, I wandered into Dyvig’s pet store downtown Ames and a little blonde ball of three-month-old mini-doxie captured my heart. For 12.5 years.

After Freya’s passing, Easter weekend 2022, I spent Saturday mornings at the BloNo Farmer’s Market in her honor browsing jellies at the jelly stand even though I’m a fan of apple butter, sitting on a stool outside the bar where she and I listened to drunks cheer a show of drag queens, purchasing a dried cornstalk decorated with dried berries which I hung next to her portrait in the hallway, staring at a little girl having her picture taken with her dog next to the Lincoln statue, admiring Route 66 signage and local art that reminds me of the Des Moines Art Fest where I bought Freya’s portrait, savoring a pork taco with feta and lime juice dribbling down my chin while sitting on the Habitat for Humanity steps listening to the Unemployed Architects where a boy in a tough guy t-shirt stopped to pet Freya. “I bet her name is Bolt,” he said before a man shared his wiener dog joke, “What do you call two dachshunds together? A paradox” and a photographer snapped Freya and I both smiling.

This past November splayed across a surgical table hot lights guiding the plastic surgeon removing a melanoma from my left arm, I summoned courage by remembering Freya’s final hours, how vulnerable my blonde ball of mini-doxie was surrounded by doctors pumping oxygen into her lungs. I distracted myself from my own medical dilemma by telling stories to the medical staff about my dachshund days. And this past winter while limping around Japan with an ankle fractured by stumbling into a rice paddy, I sat for hours drinking strawberry chai and eating a Fresh Burger across from Kokura Castle, admiring the owners walking their shibus and akitas though the dachshunds in their embroidered jackets appealed most. And this week my neighbor Monica crossed the street to ask why she hadn’t seen Freya playing in my yard and to share the loss of her feline fur baby, 17yr old Cleo who died from a stroke. We consoled each other, losing a beloved pet is like losing a member of the family.

And this is why I walk into the garden store and make a beeline towards the plaque that is a paw print with the inscription “my favorite hello my hardest goodbye,” why dog urine still stenches the carpet next to Freya’s doggie bed which I’ve not yet put away even as I acknowledge that I need a therapist a coffee shop a mechanic a doctor a lawyer and the next dog I can call my own to help collect the pieces of me without Freya.

No more horsing around my father might say. Time to find delight in this new season, without my writing partner. Time to look forward to spring and Saturdays and sweet william, sunflower, lavender, statice, yarrow and other farmer’s market flowers I may find to honor the dogs and doxie’s in my life. And myself a shameless puppy momma. Time to finish the book Women Who Run with the Wolves and to write my own chapter: she who runs with the dachshunds.      


Author Bio

Laura Sweeney facilitates Writers for Life in Iowa and Illinois.  She represented the Iowa Arts Council at the First International Teaching Artist’s Conference in Oslo, Norway.  Her poems and prose appear in sixty plus journals and twelve anthologies in the States, Canada, Britain, Indonesia, and China.  Her recent awards include a scholarship to the Sewanee Writer’s Conference. In 2021, she received an Editor’s Prize in Flash Discourse from Open: Journal of Arts & Letters; Poetry Society of Michigan’s Barbara Sykes Memorial Humor Award; and two of her poems appear in the anthology Impact: Personal Portraits of Activism, which received an American Book Fest Best Book Award in Current Events category and finalist in the Social Change category.  She is a PhD candidate, English Studies/Creative Writing, at Illinois State University.