Walsh’s Wonderings — Poppy the Magnificent
The viral videos of animal shelter volunteers celebrating empty kennels as a result of all the adoptions these past two months are a rare bright spot amid this coronavirus madness. My wife and I find ourselves with an empty bed of our own, but it’s not due to adoption. No, it’s the result of the final magic trick of Poppy the Magnificent.
Her former owner had dreams of making her a show dog, but Poppy’s stage fright was legendary. Despite this, in her first big reveal, she somehow turned herself into a magician. It’s true her shows were strictly for us at first. Her arrival was a surprise for my wife, the result of clandestine negotiations in the hope she’d keep her (new) older sisters alive past their impending expiration dates. She did, the result of an incessant energy and joy for life that brought out the best in both of them.
She honed her misdirection skills by snatching bits of her sisters’ dinners when they weren’t looking. She could make her own dinner disappear so fast we resorted to bowls specifically designed to slow her down. Like Houdini, she always figured out a way around these constraints. Her most popular trick was stuffing balls so far under the couch she’d render them invisible for months. She would stare at their last known location for hours as if trying to figure out how she’d pulled that off.
She kept the audience guessing. For instance, she’d quickly disappear every time the freezer door opened but magically appeared every time the sliding glass door opened — despite the fact that both doors made the exact same sound. She could hear the opening of a bag of chips from Rhode Island but pretended we didn’t exist if we tried to end playtime with her ball. She put roosters to shame with her ability to signal the arrival of dawn (and therefore her morning constitutional). She became a world-class snuggler not by choice but out of resignation; we’d overwhelmed her skittish personality through the sheer force of our neediness. Like a cat or a Star Trek fan, her affection had to be earned.
She performed her tricks blindfolded in later years after cataracts took her eyesight. Like any self-respecting magician, she never revealed her secrets. We’ll never know why she ran from open cabinet doors but loved drifting like a beta fish between the blankets hanging from the back of our living room chairs. We’ll never know what happened to that nickel she swallowed despite the four-day vigil we held over every subsequent bowel movement.
Her fellow magician Houdini once declared, “My chief task has been to conquer fear.” Poppy handled that task with grace, navigating her world with a sleight-of-hand that often hid how nervous she was in it ... right up until the moment a breakdown in her immune system abruptly ended the show.
Perhaps her greatest trick was her last: She left the stage with the audience wanting more, struck silent and unsure what they’d just witnessed. But for me, her best bit of sorcery was always how quickly she’d make our troubles vanish with one well-timed leap into our laps. Weeks later, I still stare at her empty bed and try to figure out how she pulled that off.
That’s the thing about magicians: The great ones leave us with a sense of wonder that lasts long after they leave the theater.