I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I have been looking for dog teeth.
My golden puppy, who in the blink of an eye has gone from dependent toddler to defiant teen (and grown into an adult-sized dog), is experiencing one of the great growing pains of life: losing her baby teeth.
I am trying to retrieve them.
The first two shed were bottom teeth, and it was hard to miss them on the pine floors of the cabin where we live. They looked like bits of chipped bone china. By last weekend, I had found both of them without really trying and then became inappropriately fixated on the dog’s teeth.
One incisor was ready to depart the gum on the right side of her mouth. I called her over to me, rolled back her licorice lips and gingerly wiggled the sharp white tooth, slightly longer than its neighbors. It actually looked a lot like a clipped toenail – with its only slightly curved shape, its bright almost luminescent white. But it seemed like a shark’s tooth to me, similar in its deadly scraping capacity to the surgically sharp nails on her forepaws.
As I sat next to her, rocking her tooth gently in her jaw, I could almost sense the peculiar way it must have felt to her. I suddenly ran through the mental images of having had my own loose baby teeth tested by my mother to see if they were “ready” to come out – or more precisely, to be pulled. It was an odd and not entirely pleasant sensation, though I wouldn’t say it – or the inevitable tug – really hurt.
But I was not able to perform the brief procedure on the dog, because I felt certain she had no idea why I was fiddling around with her teeth; that, it seems, is a characteristically human ritual (although there is probably a group of primates running around in some remote part of the planet who, it will turn out, also yank out the choppers of the very young).
In any case, I sent the dog off with her ring of rawhide and a few minutes later noticed that it had turned pink in spots.
“Did you lose that tooth?” I cried out to her. “Is that tooth already out and gone?”
It was, and is.
I have since spent a foolish amount of time trying to find that incisor, even thought I had found it when I stepped on the edge of a piece of kibble (like a tooth, a small hard object) that flew across the floor to parts unknown. I rummaged among the saved paper bags I recycle for trash, rearranged the kitchen stools, even got out a flashlight and combed the surface of every floor she could possibly have crossed in the few minutes before the tooth went missing.
I have sublimated my need to find her little fang by placing the other two teeth in a little wooden box about the size and shape of a small spool of thread. I set it on the bedside table, just in case some other dental developments take place that produce more baby teeth.
It has gotten me thinking about why we do this, make such a deliberate point of saving things we are actually shedding. My father saved my braids for years after I decided in the ninth grade that it would be much more sophisticated to have a pageboy than a ponytail – one of many inept fashion and beauty decisions of my life.
I found the plaits of hair many years later, laid across photographs in an unmarked box in the attic of my parents’ home. For a second, it felt as if an apparition of myself was present in the dusty room with me.
Last summer, when I had to have my dog put down, I asked my vet to give me a small curl of her fur – the first tangible sign I had of how hard I was going to try not to let her go. I even added some strands of my own hair from a cut months later. They remain, wrapped separately, in the shopping bag that holds all the remains of those last days of her life.
Perhaps all this is just one more indication of how badly we want to be able to stop time in its tracks, preserve an instant, even as we are drifting away into a future of unforeseeable moments.
Maybe my father wished that I – his fourth daughter – would not grow up as the others already successfully had, creating new families of their own.
I surely did not want my dog to die, and I guess I would cling to the charm of puppyhood in the new retriever for as long as I could.
Maybe we think all these talismen will help somehow, will hold back the poet’s “hungry generations that tread us down.”
Change is a daunting, personal challenge. Perhaps all we want is a metaphor that protects from the storm of time.
North Cairn can be reached at 207-791-6325 or at: