What the Dog Knows

Deborah Reed



There’s a famous New Yorker cartoon of a dog typing at a computer with the caption: “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” My version of the cartoon would show a brown and white springer spaniel rising from her bed next to my writing desk to show me when I’ve hit a sweet spot. The caption would read: “No one knows my first reader is a dog.” But now my secret is out.


Everyone has heard of service dogs who sense when someone is about to have an epileptic seizure or diabetic fit. Dogs detect things before they happen, like earthquakes, or cancer starting to grow beneath the skin. But I had no idea before I met Bunch that dogs can sense how well one’s writing is going.


I hate to say this. In fact, it nearly makes me cringe. But it really was like a Disney film when I first laid eyes on her. Eight frolicking puppies in a room, and yes, frolicking is the correct word when you’re dealing with paws and wagging tails and big ears springing in joyous heaps across a floor. At the center of this, the puppy with the loveliest markings (rich brown face with a perfect white line down the center of her nose) sat near my foot, looked up at me, and then lowered her head onto my shoe as if to take a nap. Her long ears draped like pigtails across my toes. I loved her instantly.


Ten years later, we’ve spent almost every day at each other’s side; she on her fleece bed, (still at my feet) and me at my writing desk. I’ve developed into the writer I am today with her next to me. My writing experience, and possibly my writing itself, may never be the same when she’s gone. And we’re getting close now. What’s the average life span of a springer spaniel? Don’t tell me.


There’s this thing she does that is hard to explain, and perhaps even harder to believe. It happens when I reach a higher level in my writing, when I just know that I’ve finally hit the right note. It is then that Bunch will wake up, wag her tail, and come over to drape her glorious ears on my lap. While writing my novel, Carry Yourself Back To Me, I, like any writer, exhausted my sensibilities into a mess onto the page, and then reshaped them a thousand times until I finally got what I was after. But it wasn’t until my own words made me cry or hit me in the chest with the full weight of forgiveness or regret in that final year of writing that novel, that I knew I’d finally done what I set out to do. And somehow Bunch knew too.


At first I thought I must be giving off some physical, yet subtle, cue—a sigh, a squirm, a swallow hard and deep enough to hear that caused her to rise and rest her head against me. Even so, if that’s all it takes, it’s still baffling to think about another living creature being so tightly in tune with the nuance of one’s body, not to mention emotions. But I was curious, so I tested her. The next time I got teary-eyed I stayed very still and tried hard not to let anything show. And yet there she was, head in my lap, tail shimmying like a panicked snake. After that I wondered if the intense feelings beneath my skin were projecting a kind of high-pitched note that only a dog could hear. Or perhaps a low-grade ache in my heart that only she could feel. All I know is that when the words on the page broke me, when they’d thrown me into a place where I was more or less living their meaning, part of my certainty that my work was done had come from Bunch knowing too.


I have no idea how she does it. Dogs know things. If you’ve ever loved a dog, you know what I’m talking about. You understand that they operate from the deepest, muckiest place of nuance and unconditional love. They are better than us in this way. And in my case, what Bunch knows has, in a sense, made her my first reader. How many writers can say that? I know how lucky I am that she found me. My love for her is as unconditional as any I’ll ever know. But like all great loves in literature, it’s only a matter of time before she breaks my heart. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write about it without her.



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Deborah Reed


Deborah Reed is the author of the recently published Olivay. Her novel Things We Set On Fire sold over 100,000 copies in the first six months, and Carry Yourself Back to Me was a Best Book of 2011 Amazon Editors’ Pick. She wrote the bestselling thriller, A Small Fortune and its sequel, Fortune’s Deadly Descent, under her pen name, Audrey Braun. All of her novels have been translated or are forthcoming in German. Her nonfiction has appeared in publications such as Poets & Writers, and the Literarian. Deborah holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing (fiction) and is co-director of the Black Forest Writing Seminars at the University of Freiburg in Germany. She lives in Manzanita, Oregon.


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