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Poetry and Medicine
June 23 2010

Why My Wife Should Let Me Have a Dog

JAMA. 2010;303(24):2448. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.614

If I had a dog his soft fur would not foliate
the sofa or trigger asthma attacks
in my dear wife, ending with a hospital trip,
an adrenaline shot and those inhaler tubes
littering the house.
His rich brown eyes will convey profound
intelligence and sensitivity to the subtlest
shifts in my mood. Those eyes will never
get infected and fill with viscous yellow pus
we must wipe with Q-Tips and cure with
sticky ointment, awkward for us both.
My dog will lie by my feet while I read
the Sunday Times he fetched from the lawn
and delivered dry from his slobber-free
mouth, and he’ll wait for his walk
until I complete the crossword.
And when we walk he’ll heel until I hurl
a tennis ball. Watch him streak across
the grassy field, catch it on first bounce
and, with gleeful tail, surrender the prize to me
for another go. He will never drop dead
birds or vermin on the front stoop like
the neighbor's dog they had to put to sleep.
At poop time he will drag his leash from
the closet, jangling across the tile to my chair.
He will never get diarrhea and soil the Oriental,
then whimper or cower in the corner.
And when I have my heart attack, I don't know
if he will punch 9-1-1 with his nose
like the schnauzer in the news,
but surely he’ll cover my body with his, so
the EMTs won't find me jittery with shock.
While waiting for the ambulance, I’ll thank
my wife for this beast, warming the pain,
a gift as perfect as our children who,
when we play tennis, won't serve as hard
as they can and will blow some shots
to let me think that by some necessary miracle
I’ve survived and will win in the end.