A few years ago, the Uncertaintist posted about whether dogs remember their dead comrades (link on image). The piece focused on the alpha Akita Clea, her late brother Alexei and the small dragon plush toy that had been Alexei’s, which Clea carefully preserved and kept with her. After Clea died in December 2013, I lost track of the dragon. I assumed that Alexei and Clea’s housemates had stored it away, as a keepsake.
Alexei had had a favorite among his human companions, a girl he had helped to raise, and of whom he was besotted. In Alexei’s later years, she had gone away to school. Whenever she came home to visit, Alexei walked two inches off the ground. No need to ask whether his beloved was in residence, you just looked at Alexei.
Several months after Clea’s death, this now grown woman rescued Amy, a dog who is a breed unto herself. A few months ago, your correspondent was honored to sit with Amy. As our visit progressed, attention turned to Amy’s toys. There among them was Alexei’s dragon, bright and pristine, scarcely different than it was when I had first photographed it resting against Clea’s cheek more than three years before.
I photographed it again. Amy watched me closely as I fussed over the toy, but didn’t interrupt. When I was done, I returned the dragon to rest among her other toys.
A few weeks later, I sat with Amy again. This time, when I looked through her toys, the dragon was in tatters.
At first, I was of two minds about what Amy had done. I had grown fond of that whimsical little survivor. It reminded me of two dogs whom I love. But then so does Amy herself, unlike the Akitas physically, and yet large-spirited and completely suited to be their successor.
There is no mystery that a dog would tear apart a toy designed for a dog to tear apart. The mystery is that Amy hadn’t done so before. What had she been waiting for?
I think Amy reasoned as follows. When her human companions first gave Amy the dragon, Clea’s scent was all through it. Clea had kept it close by her for years and had regularly licked the dragon to clean it. Alexei’s scent was possibly still there, too. Amy knew that despite its apparent purpose, the dragon hadn’t been a toy for Clea. Dead or alive, Clea was an alpha dog, something else that Amy knew by smell. Amy prudently left Clea’s dragon alone.
Amy likely knows that I knew Clea, Alexei and the story of this dragon that unfolded before Amy was born. She could see without being told that I recognized the dragon, and that I promptly performed a human ritual act that Amy is familiar with. I took photographs of it, much as so many people in Amy’s world often take photographs of her. Amy surmises this must hold some meaning for us.
And then, although I didn’t mean to, I probably sealed the dragon’s fate. When I finished my ritual adulation, I replaced the dragon among her toys while Amy watched. I thereby gave the dragon to her again, this time after a demonstrated awareness of what the dragon had once meant to another dog. Amy was oblivious that I was thinking only that I ought to return what wasn’t mine to where I’d found it. My mistake, not hers. I was oblivious to how this vignette looked to her.
Amy had been waiting for assurance that whatever the history of the dragon was, whatever it had been for the formidable Clea, this toy was now one of Amy’s toys, without conditions or complications, to use as Alexei’s human companions had originally intended that he use it years ago. And so she did use it, maybe more crisply than usual, lest somebody living or dead change their mind.