"Fancy Dog Contest"
Outsiders have a hard time understanding the way Indians are with their dogs, just like they are always puzzled about Indians and their kids. Maybe in some ways the two patterns are alike. Dogs in Indian communities are lavished one minute and kicked under the table the next. And children, well, they're prized beyond almost any material thing, but then they have the air knocked out of them when they least expect it. I don't mean physically, necessarily, although that's true, too, sometimes. I mean the way you feel when something happens that suddenly makes you go limp with loss. My Uncle William once told me about a drunk hunter who shot his own dog when it got beat out in retrieving. "I can still see the betrayal in the eyes of that animal as it looked at the barrel," he said. "It turned away and went dead before that fool even pulled the trigger." Well, I've seen plenty of children wearing that look, and with reason enough.
But it's not the alcohol cruelty that makes reservations different from any other place, it's the strange loyalties. And the way they flow back and forth between children and parents, animals and humans. I don't know if you can understand, but it's like what happened between my grandma and her old dog Larky. Grandma and that dog had been together through two moves and ten kids. Larky didn't have a fancy life. She lived under the house, protected in winter by bales of hay piled around the skirting. And she survived mostly on scraps and table slop. I don't even remember Grandma spending very much time with Larky, just a quick scratch on her way to the woodpile or a pat while shucking corn. But they were friends. I knew that because Grandma could set Larky's tail to wagging more than anyone and Larky always started Grandma on a mumbling conversation. Well, that dog was old and beginning to suffer, her hind legs almost too weak to hold her up. My grandma finally told one of the boys to build a box and ready his gun. But the next morning they found Larky had just died. You see, that's what those two would do for one another.
From the Short Story "Fancy Dog Contest" in
Stories Migrating Home (1999)
Used with permission of the author.