I think it’s time to write about Kudzu. Kudzu has been on my mind much these days. This is rarely a pleasant thing, because Kudzu loved me without reservation, and I neglected and then abandoned her.
Kudzu was my first dog.
Her mother was a collie-beagle-husky mix, Honey, who belonged to my friends Joe and Fran in Buffalo. Her father was a farm dog mutt that belonged to Joe’s uncle. I happened to be over at Joe and Fran’s when the litter was born. This was no particular coincidence: I had attached myself to Joe and Fran, an uninvited mascot, and my visits often lasted for days. They owned some land out in the foothills of the Alleghenies south of Buffalo, and I decided I was going to stay there one winter, and thought it would be a good idea to have a dog there to keep me company. I chose Kudzu with that in mind.
She had no retriever in her at all, but that’s what she looked like: a thinner version of a golden, blond petticoats on her hind legs, a pink nose, soft tan ears that flopped to just the right length. I took her home at six weeks. By “home” I mean the house my parents had bought before their divorce, which they were in the process of trying to sell. I slept on the kitchen floor with her the first night as she cried for Honey.
Kudzu loved me, of course. I never had a job, and so I never had to leave her alone, and for the first few months I didn’t, unless I was going off to a demonstration or something. She went with me on dates — never a problem, as she was far cuter than I was — and walked with me across the city late at night to friends’ houses, often to visit Joe and Fran and her mother.
I was 21. I had been raised by wolves, which, ironically, proved to be a bad model for rearing and training a dog. I was too self-centered to figure out that when I did leave her at the house, she needed me to come back sometime in the next 24 hours even if I had left enough food and water. I was too stupid and unsocialized to realize that dogs need to see the vet, and when Joe, disgusted with me, lent me I think a hundred bucks to take Kudzu to the vet, I spent it on food. Food for both Kudzu and me, to be sure, but she needed the vet: she had a case of worms you would not believe. When I finally got her to the doctor, got her vaccinated and wormed and checked over and then had them bill my father, she started growing at twice her previous rate.
I was a monster. Or an asshole. Or a monster’s asshole. I lost interest in her, and she would break out of the house and walk across town to friends’ houses, let herself in through the cat door or hang around on their porches until they let her in and called me.
And then I turned 22, and decided to move west, and when my friend Pete — who I’d planned to drive with, him and our dogs and various others in a bullet-pocked van bought at a police auction — kept procrastinating on leaving, I decided to hitchhike, while he agreed to drive out with both our dogs later that summer. He decided he couldn’t bring either dog with him: he gave his dog to a farmer outside town, and dropped Kudzu off with Joe and Fran.
Joe and Fran took good care of her, tried to socialize her in behavioral arenas I had neglected — which was most of them — and, when it became obvious I wasn’t coming back for her, they found her a home with a family in a big house, where she was renamed “Goldie.” I have no idea what happened to her after that. I don’t deserve to know. She would have been far better off without my life and hers intersecting in any way.
When Becky started talking that day at the Berkeley Humane Society about adopting the sweet, wolfy-looking dog in the first kennel, I was terrified. My one experience with taking responsibility for a dog had been a complete disaster: I had done Kudzu permanent harm. Kudzu would have been ten years old that year, if she lived that long. The memory was fresh, and my knowledge of just how poorly I had behaved still unfolding. Of course, I fell in love with Zeke within two minutes of taking him for that first trial walk, and his residence with us was certain. But Kudzu haunted me. Becky’s a far more responsible person than I, more than capable of training and caring for a perfectly healthy dog with no help from the likes of me. Still. I had only in the previous few years grown aware that I was, in fact, just one of billions of things in this world that had actual feelings, and that I had done a significant amount of damage to the feelings of quite a number of those beings, Kudzu likely most of all.
Within the first week at our place in Oakland, Zeke had chased a cat behind the garage and hurt his left rear leg. It was a small wound, bleeding only a little, and it was only an hour later when Becky pointed out he was still limping that it occurred to me to take him to the vet. We returned from the vet without him. He had severed a tendon on some sharp metal our neighbor had hidden behind the garage, piled ivy stems atop, and then forgotten about. With us less than a month and I’d already let him become seriously injured! I found some wire fencing and nailed it up to block off the space behind the garage, and then went inside to fret with Becky over whether Zeke would be all right.
I have spent fifteen years and change fretting over whether Zeke will be all right. Old habits are hard to break. I am still fretting over whether Zeke will be all right, despite the fact that I should have amply proven to myself by now that I’m competent to keep a dog alive and mostly healthy, despite the fact that all reason to fret will end in a few days. I fret despite my hard head that he will be lonely out there in the yard, that he will miss sleeping in the house, that he’ll be scared or sad. It is a comfort not to believe in heaven: he would miss us so much. I fret far more than he needs, and I will still do so when he’s gone, attention Zeke had in abundance that I owed Kudzu, a debt I have tried to repay to Zeke on her behalf. He gained from it, but the debt has not lessened a speck.