The Power of the Dog

Christmas 2020

I’ve just finished the audiobook Olive, Mabel and Me by Andrew Cotter, the Scottish sportscaster whose labradors became international stars last year when he — well, just go to YouTube and search “Olive Mabel.” Yes, that Olive and Mabel.

I’ve been spending the commute laughing and crying. Cotter delivers the audiobook with the wry humor that makes their videos so precious, and he reminds us of the sad truth every dog lover knows: All good dogs come to an end.

He introduced me to Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Power of the Dog,” which bluntly addresses this reality — but, you know? These amazing animals may tear our hearts, but first they spend more than a decade melting them, and as awful as the goodbyes are, they’re balanced by thousands of the most honest and loving hellos we will every know.

Olive, Mabel and Me gets my enthusiastic recommendation for any and all who have ever experience the power of the dog.

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There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie—
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find—it’s your own affair—
But… you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!).
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone—wherever it goes—for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long—
So why in—Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

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