How to Touch a Bleeding Dog
by: Rod Kessler
It begins as nothing, as a blank. A rose light is filtering through the curtains. Rosy and cozy. My
blanket is green. MY blanket is warm. I am inside. Inside is warm. Outside is the dawn. Outside is
cold. Cold day. My arm reaches for a wife who is no longer there.
The stillness is broken by the voice of a neighbor, yelling from the road outside. “The dog! Your
dog’s been hit!” It’s the farmer down the road, keeping farmer’s hours. “The dog!”
It’s not my dog, but it’s my responsibility. It is Beth’s dog. I don’t even like him, with his nervous
habit of soiling the kitchen floor at night. I used to clean up after the dog before Beth came yawning
out of our bed, and that was an act of love, but not of the dog. Now it doesn’t matter why I clean up.
Beth’s dog is old and worn. He smells like a man given to thin cigars. Beth found him at the animal
shelter, the oldest dog there.
I find the dog quivering on his side where he limped from the road. He has come to the garden gate,
where the rose bushes bloom. A wound on his leg goes cleanly to the bone, and red stains appear
here and there on the dull rug of his coat. He will not stand or budge when I coax him. A thick
brown soup flows out of his mouth onto the dirt.
On the telephone, the veterinarian asks me what he looks like, and I say, stupidly, like an old
Airedale. He means his wounds. After I describe them, he instructs me to wrap the dog in something
warm and rush him over.
I make a mitten of the green blanket and scoop weeds and clods as well as the dog. The dew on the
grass looks cool, but the blood that blossoms on the blanket is warm and sick. HE is heavy in my
arms and settles without resistance in my car. He is now gravity’s dog.
Driving past the unplowed fields toward town, I wonder if my clumsiness hurt the dog. Would Beth
have touched him? The oldest dog in the shelter! It’s a wonder that she thought having a dog would
The veterinarian helps me bring the dog from the car to the office. We make a sling of the blanket, I
at the head. We lay him out on a steel-topped table. I pick weeds and grass from the blanket and
don’t know what to say.
The veterinarian clears his throat but then says nothing.
“He’s my wife’s dog,” I say. “Actually, he came from the shelter over on High Street. He wasn’t
working out, really. I was thinking of returning him.”
The veterinarian touches a spot below the dog’s ear.
“Maybe,” I continue, “maybe if it’s going to cost a lot…”
“I don’t think you have to make that decision,” says the veterinarian, who points out that
some papillary response is missing. “He’s dying,” he says. “It’s good you weren’t attached to him.”
Beth, I remembered, enjoyed taking the dog for rides in the car.
“These breaths,” the veterinarian is saying, “are probably his last.”
He seems relieved that he needn’t bother to act appropriately for the sake of any grief on my part.
He asks, “Did he run in the road a lot?”
“Never,” I say. “He never ran at all.”
“What do you make of that?”
“Beats me,” I say, lying. I watch the dog’s chest rise and fall. He’s already far away and alone. I
picture myself running out into the road.
I watch my hand volunteer itself and run its finger through the nap of his head, which is
surprisingly soft. And, with my touch on him, he is suddenly dead.
I walk back to the car and am surprised by how early in the day it still is. Blood is drying on the
green blanket in my hand, but it will come off in the wash. The blood on the carpet of the car is out
of sight, and I will pretend it isn’t there. And then there’s the touch. But soon the touch, too, will be
Ms. Peterson: Summer School English 2013
“How to Touch a Bleeding Dog”
Reading Comprehension and Discussion Questions
After reading “How to Touch a Bleeding Dog,” answer each of the following questions to
the best of your ability.
Be sure to use complete sentences and examples from the text to support your answers
for full credit.
Answer the questions in your notebook and leave space to add notes based on our
1. Who is Beth?
2. Why do you think the narrator describes the day as “cold”?
3. Beth thought having a dog “would help.” Help what?
4. What decision doesn’t the narrator need to make? How does he feel about that? Why?
5. Who/What in this story does the dog represent?
a. Defend this answer with 3 examples from the text
b. Explain your answers.
Writing about a lost object/person
1. Select an object or person that was important to you that you lost.
2. List the following attributes or associations with the object:
f. Favorite part
g. Worst part
h. Biggest regret
i. 3 random association words
3. Describe how you lost the item/person
4. Choose your story and write a poem or 3-page story.