December 19, 2006


It must have been close to Christmas, but on which side, I don't quite 
remember. I suspect it was sometime in the January doldrums when all was 
frozen and gray. My friend Walter decided it was a good day for a dog. To get 
one, that is. "I know I'm me, because my little dog knows me," Walter once 
quoted Gertrude Stein. With his boyfriend Joseph away in the hospital, the house 
had an unaccustomed empty feeling. And it had been without a dog for too long. 
The shelter was in Ann Arbor. We piled festively into the car for the outing.

It didn't take long to find her, a black and white ragamuffin puppy, so excited to 

see us that her tail seemed to wag her whole body. "This one?" I said, my inner 
ten year old going can we get her? Huh? Can we? Can we? On the way home in 
the car Walter chuckled, "I don't know whose eyes were more pleading - hers or 
yours." Walter named her Agatha, in honor of Miss Christie, the doyenne of our 
mid-winter reads. 

She soon became the lady of the house. There were always three or four cats 

around, most of whom preferred the outdoors. Once in a while one would take a 
fancy to domestic life on the inside. It was allowed, but it would have to submit 
to Agatha, who suffered cats reservedly. These were tough cats who could send 
the weimaramer, six times their size, running for cover. But not Agatha. She 
had them buffaloed. And was ever vigilant in maintaining her preeminence in the 
complex spheres of influence that only four-legged creatures seem to chart and 
understand. The subtlest ‘grrrr’ was enough to ward off feline interlopers, most 
of which weighed more than she. With people she was ever friendly, but 
ladylike, wont to lavish unrestrained affection only on us few charter members of 
her inner circle. Agatha was Walter’s last dog. She lived long and died in peace. 

It was on the very day after we brought her home from the shelter that Agatha 

found out what winter in Michigan was all about. I took her for a frolic, just the 
two of us, on the pond at the golf course across the street. I on skates, she on 
scrabbly paws, doing her comical best to negotiate the slippery and unfamiliar 
cold surface. We weren’t there long when the ice suddenly gave way, and down 
went Agatha, shocked but unreproachful, into the icy water, her little paws 
clawing frantically on the continually breaking and receding rim of ice. The pond 
wasn’t deep. I waded in, skates and all, and scooped her out of the abyss. Now 
twice rescued, we bonded for life. Although I was away for years at a time, 
whenever I went back to “the farm” for a visit, Agatha was beside herself with 
excitement to see me. We both knew what nobody else did: she was really my