Shaggy Muses by Maureen Adams

Maureen Adams
Psychologist and
English Professor

Shaggy Muses by Maureen Adams

How My Idea Originated

Eleven years ago, my curiosity about the human-dog bond was transformed into a compelling interest when Cody, my Golden Retriever, died. I am a psychologist, and I often reassure clients who are mourning the death of a dog that such emotion is normal and appropriate. However, these thoughts did not comfort me when I lost Cody. Even though he had lived a rich, full life, and I had done everything I could to make sure he had a “good death,” I was bereft when he died. For comfort, I turned to poetry and literature. I began with Emily Dickinson, whose poetry I have loved since childhood.

One day, I discovered a note she had written to her literary mentor announcing the death of her dog: “Carlo died: Would you instruct me now?” I was stunned by the strong reaction I had to these few words. The spare language evoked the bleakness I experienced after losing Cody. Also, I kept wondering about the meaning of the question, “Would you instruct me now?” Had Emily Dickinson relied on Carlo somehow to guide her poetry?

Re-reading a collection of her letters, I made a second discovery. Emily Dickinson referred to Carlo as “my Mute Confederate” and “my Shaggy Ally.” These casual terms of endearment, used by a writer so careful and deliberate about words, struck an immediate chord in me. I knew for certain that Emily Dickinson had cared about Carlo in the same way I cared about Cody.

I was drawn to women writers because their experiences were close to my own. Gradually, a small group seemed to fall naturally into place around Emily Dickinson and Carlo: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Brontë, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf all had dogs that became their Shaggy Muses.


Shaggy Muses by Maureen Adams

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