…or, A Portrait of the Boxer as Vincent Van Gogh.
Actually, The Pugilist at Rest is the title of an excellent short story, as well as the title of a collection of excellent short stories all by Thom Jones, a former Marine, amateur boxer, factory worker, janitor, and copywriter, now a much praised author. If you can lay your hands on a copy of The Pugilist at Rest, do so. But in this case, I was referring to the canine Boxer, specifically my Boxer, Pete. (However, just to confuse the issue, the only photograph I found of Thom Jones, writer and boxer, shows him with a Boxer.)
Boxers (the dogs, not the pugilists) are the champagne of the canine world: they positively effervesce with a contagious joy of living; they dance, spinning in exuberant, celebratory circles; they run with the deceptive speed and change of direction of a Heisman Trophy-winning running back; they enthusiastically love their own families, children in general, their own cats, and anyone or everyone to whom they have been properly introduced; they regard strangers with reserve, and they chase rabbits with abandon. If you have the energy to live with one—and they do require a lot of energy and a lot of exercise—and he doesn’t make you smile, then you must be a sad and dull fellow indeed.
It was probably the rabbit chasing that got Pete in trouble. He cut his ear, and what is most mystifying is that neither Darleen nor I ever noticed the cut. This is mystifying partly because Darleen and I both have our hands on all our animals all the time (it’s difficult not to have your hands on a dog whose head is in your lap) and partly because ear cuts bleed spectacularly. To continue the pugilistic analogy, dogs’ ears bleed as much as head cuts on a boxer. Back when I made an aborted attempt to be a pugilist, my extraordinary lack of skill, coupled with Irish skin, made me a popular sparring partner: almost everyone could beat me, and there was always an excellent chance that I would end up spraying blood in all directions, to the delight of my opponents. That’s how a dog’s ear bleeds, but we never saw a drop of blood on Pete. The result was that the cartilage became infected, and our boy had to have surgery. When he gets his bandage off, the result will be, according the vet, an ear almost two inches shorter on one side than the other, making him look more and more like the beloved boxer of my childhood, shown with me in my short bio. I doubt Pete will give a damn, but it will make him look a little lopsided.
There are few things in this world that radiate gloom as much as Boxer who doesn’t feel well, and the things that would cheer him up, such as running around the ranch, chasing rabbits, going for long walks, roughhousing, are the very things he is supposed not to do. He reminds me much of myself after surgery, when I’m feeling very sorry for myself and disposed to whine. The primary difference is that Pete tolerates pain a lot better than I do; just ask Darleen. This stoicism of dogs, particularly the so-called “bully breeds” (dogs originally bred for various gladiatorial events) is a stark contrast to their extraordinary love of creature comforts. Trying to get Pete to go for a walk while it is snowing or—even worse—raining is like asking a sensible adult human to voluntarily stick his tongue in an electric outlet. He will do it, but he goes out with all the enthusiasm of a guest of the Spanish Inquisition climbing up on the pile of kindling while the executioner holds a match. I could probably pay off my pickup truck if I sold all the dog beds scattered around the house, but you’ll never catch Pete in one of them. I mean, after all, there’s a perfectly good sofa for watching television, and a perfectly good king-sized bed for serious sleeping, so why make do with one of those tacky dog beds? (Actually, they’re pretty comfortable. I can vouch for it because they are frequently the only place I can find to watch television myself, two dogs and four cats managing to take up more space on the furniture than you could imagine.)
But fighting for a place to sit or sleep is a small price to pay for so much love and devotion and high-spirited good-humor. It’s painful to see him now in an Elizabethan collar, looking like one of the early Christian martyrs as the Roman executioners start warming to their work. Not that the early Christian martyrs wore Elizabethan collars, but you know what I mean. I can’t wait for him to heal.