Uncle Dog was the first animal I ever saw who seemed to have some sense of purpose, dignity, pride, and self-regard. Fuck the human species. This Heinz 57 mutt refused to cringe or bark, or in any way even acknowledge other dogs. ‘Uncle Dog.’ He was the one who rode around with the once-weekly garbage man. This was Chicago back in the mid-1940s, and we lived on the second floor of a two-flat apartment. Rent: $65. a month. And the best of it was our back porch where I hung out with animals. But never my favorite, the garbage man’s dog, dog of dogs!
I think of him now in our age of “companion animals,” “designer dogs,” a time when 69 million American households have dogs–73.9 million dogs! Dogs. Dogs. 39 billion dollars a year goes for the care and feeding of American pets.
Anyway, more than any family member or school teacher or, for that matter, yoga instructor… it was Uncle Dog who taught me the importance of carriage and self-regard. Self-respect. We’d gotten dogs from that notorious Cook County prison (c. 1940), the Chicago Humane Society and, no fault of their own, those canines were a sorry lot. Three hungry days in a cage and, broken-spirited… either they were“selected” by some dog-lover or were gassed. That’s where we got some real “suspects,” canines picked up off the street… dogs without street smarts, dogs… victims of human self-regard, “human exceptionalism.”
Uncle Dog. The mongrel prince of princes. Dog of dogs.
In 1957 at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop I wrote the thing. And, surprise! it got accepted by the Chicago Review. Then the Chicago Review Anthology, then Hayden Carruth’s The Voice That is Great Within Us, and some others. And, needing publication to nourish my ego, to do for me whatever needed doing… I draw inspiration from…
I can hear him now: Woof, woof! Woof fuckin’ woof!