A Tail's Tale

By Patricia Conway, August 2018, Updated June 2021
Photo by Patricia Conway

Photo by Patricia Conway

The tail tells all. Does joyful wagging increase blood flow and stimulate hair growth? Sounds perfectly plausible to us as we’ve watched our dog Bishop’s skinny, bare corkscrew become a fluffy joystick. The power of love has transformed his terrier tail from the rodent-y one he sported when he adopted us three years ago; we had never seen such a ratty tail before, except on a rat.

Someone had dumped this darling at a local rescue after sharing his life for two years. The excuses: house training regressed, picky eater, nasty toy guarder, poorly socialized. His foster mom’s big terrier-loving heart was then apprehensive when she took him in, but this is what she found: a smart, sociable guy; an energetic team player with her four failed fosters; a courteous sharer of toys; kind to her cats; no accidents beyond the first day’s nervous marking; devoted and affectionate to his temporary guardians.

Bishop thrived in their care and attention, and they readied him for us. Now, here in his yearned for kingdom, he finds love, play, exercise and food available to him whenever he wants it. On the purely practical side, he is one arm portable, sweet-smelling and non-shedding, quiet except for doorbell-ringing or sudden deer-spotting. After napping, before his rascality, terrier smarts and determination fully awaken, he oozes the velvet warmth of a baby. What is there not to love about this little man?

We guess that in his original, unknown home, Bishop had perfected the good manners he exhibits now. Maybe an unavoidable tragedy, a family split, an illness or death caused his first orphaning five years ago. Maybe someone who loved and nurtured him, devastated and hoping desperately for his good future, brought him to the caring local shelter where he was adopted by a misguided human. We have no such cockeyed optimism about his second relinquishment, when this human pronounced him as “never the dog I wanted” and passed him through her car window like a bag of recyclables, seven pounds of unkempt, bony, hungry nothing, to his foster rescuer. I’m sure he didn’t understand why he hadn’t been appreciated in his second home for the fine gentleman he is.


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Bishop settled in with us immediately, realizing that he had finally landed on his home shores and spackling the big heart crack opened by Evie’s sorrowful departure after 17 years of total canine bliss. Clinking tags, strategically placed water bowls, plastic bag in pockets, toys to trip over. Sharp hearing tuned into all faint or loud noises, tiny black nose detecting the scent of food from the other end of the house, an eager readiness for an exuberant walk at a moment’s notice. He brought back all the small wonders that had retreated from our lives as Evie aged.

Bishop re-dogged us. As these things go for the truly dog-hearted, our commitment to our new rescue became devotion, his quirks became marvels, the long skinny legs transformed from gangly to positively elegant. His big pointy ears multitask as radar dishes for a chipmunk sighting, relaxed and Yoda-esque for a nap, angels’ wings in the deep peace of sleep. He now madly revels in the daily canine company of a dog group, excited for play, then a tight spooning cuddle with one or more sturdy Pugs. He’s a one-man welcoming committee to all dogs and humans he encounters, a big bundle of canine talents packed into a tiny, nine-pound body.

A month into his homecoming, he served as Nurse Bishop, warming his human’s lap and providing comfort and therapy after serious neck surgery. And we were healing him as well. The tail was the giveaway. As his confidence in our love grew, the scanty appendage sprouted wispily, slowly blossoming into a fuzzy black feather boa, curling into a pleasure craft. We see now in his early pictures that he was keeping a stiff upper lip: eyes distant and wary, mirroring past disappointments, wondering why he hadn’t been loved. Now, he’s engaged, excited, confident, his big jovial personality finally unfurled along with his new tail.

After three years, we’re fiercely attached to this diminutive, funny boy in a shaggy dog costume—a Bishop who bestows his daily blessings on us.

Patricia Conway’s work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and Northshore (Chicago) and Odyssey (Greek) magazines.