Companion animals, what they might be thinking about, and their interactions with their humans are frequent themes in poetry. Your students might enjoy reading or listening to these poems about a dog, two cats, and a rescued rabbit. After each poem is read, ask your students to write or talk about their reactions and their feelings.
You can take it away, as far as I’m concerned—I’d rather spend the afternoon with a nice dog. I’m not kidding. Dogs have what a lot of poems lack: excitements and responses, a sense of play, the ability to impart warmth, elation . . .
If Feeling Isn’t In It
Dogs will also lick your face if you let them.
Their bodies will shiver with happiness.
A simple walk in the park is just about
the height of contentment for them, followed
by a bowl of food, a bowl of water,
a place to curl up and sleep. Someone
to scratch them where they can’t reach
and smooth their foreheads and talk to them.
Dogs also have a natural dislike of mailmen
and other bringers of bad news and will
bite them on your behalf. Dogs can smell
fear and also love with perfect accuracy.
There is no use pretending with them.
Nor do they pretend. If a dog is happy
or sad or nervous or bored or ashamed
or sunk in contemplation, everybody knows it.
They make no secret of themselves.
You can even tell what they’re dreaming about
by the way their legs jerk and try to run
on the slippery ground of sleep.
Nor are they given to pretentious self-importance.
They don’t try to impress you with how serious
or sensitive they are. They just feel everything
full blast. Everything is off the charts
with them. More than once I’ve seen a dog
waiting for its owner outside a café
practically implode with worry. “Oh, God,
what if she doesn’t come back this time?
What will I do? Who will take care of me?
I loved her so much and now she’s gone
and I’m tied to a post surrounded by people
who don’t look or smell or sound like her at all.”
And when she does come, what a flurry
of commotion, what a chorus of yelping
and cooing and leaps straight up into the air!
It’s almost unbearable, this sudden
fullness after such total loss, to see
the world made whole again by a hand
on the shoulder and a voice like no other.
John Brem (Published by the Poetry Foundation)
This Old Cat
I’m getting on in years,
My coat is turning grey.
My eyes have lost their luster,
my hearing’s just okay.
I spend my whole day dreaming
of conquests in my past,
lying near a sunny window.
Waiting for its warm repast.
I remember our first visit,
I was coming to you free,
hoping you would take me in
and keep me company.
I wasn’t young or handsome,
two years I’d roamed the street.
There were scars upon my face,
I hobbled on my feet.
I could sense your disappointment
as I left my prison cage.
Oh, I hoped you would accept me
and look beyond my age.
You took me out of pity,
I accepted without shame.
Then you grew to love me,
and I admit the same.
I have shared with you your laughter,
You have wet my fur with tears.
We’ve come to know each other
Throughout these many years.
Just one more hug this morning
Before you drive away,
And know I’ll think about you
Throughout your busy day.
The time we’ve left together
Is a treasured time at that.
My heart is yours forever.
I promise. . . This Old Cat.
Note: The author has recorded “Cat Rap.” You can play it for your students by clicking here.
Lying on the sofa
all curled up and meek
but in my furry-fuzzy head
there’s a rapping beat.
Gonna rap while I’m napping
and looking sweet
gonna rap while I’m padding
on the balls of my feet
Gonna rap on my head
gonna rap on my tail
gonna rap on my
you know where.
So wave your paws in the air
like you just don’t care
with nine lives to spare
gimme five right here.
Well, they say that we cats
are killed by curiosity,
but does this moggie* mind?
No, I’ve got suavity.
When I get to heaven
Gonna rap with Macavity*
Gonna find his hidden paw
And clear up that mystery.
Nap it up
Scratch it up
The knack is free
Fur it up
Purr it up
Yes that’s me.
The meanest cat-rapper you’ve ever seen.
Number one of the street-sound galaxy.
Grace Nichols (from Everybody Got a Gift)
*moggie—in British English, a mixed-breed cat
*Macavity—a famous cat from T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Here’s what the poem about Macavity says:
Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw –
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime – Macavity’s not there!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!
Rabbit Rescue Poem
I used to be a lonely rabbit,
just looking for a home.
I simply had no place to go,
no one to call my own.
I wandered through the streets and fields,
in rain in heat and snow.
I ate what ever I could find,
I was always on the go.
My skin would itch, my feet were sore,
my body ached with pain.
And no one stopped to give a pat
or a gently say my name.
I never saw a loving glance,
I was always on the run.
For people thought that hurting me
was really lots of fun.
And then one day I heard a voice
so gentle, kind and sweet,
And arms so soft reached down to me
and took me off my feet.
“No one again will hurt you”
was whispered in my ear.
“You’ll have a home to call your own
where you will know no fear.
You will be dry, you will be warm,
you’ll have enough to eat
And rest assured that when you sleep,
your dreams will all be sweet.”
I was afraid I must admit,
I’ve lived so long in fear.
I can’t remember when I let
a human come so near.
And as she tended to my wounds
and cleaned and brushed my fur
she told me ’bout the rescue group
and what it meant to her.
She said, “We are a circle,
a line that never ends.
and in the center there is you
protected by new friends.
And all around you are the ones
who’ll keep you safe and sound,
who will share their loving home with you
until a forever one can be found.
We will do all we can
by searching near and far,
to find the perfect home for you,
where you can be a star.”
She said, “There is a family,
that’s waiting patiently,
and pretty soon we’ll find them,
just you wait and see.
And then they’ll join our circle,
they’ll help to make it grow,
so there’ll be room for more like you,
who have no place to go.”
I waited very patiently,
the days, they came and went.
Today’s the day, I would hope,
my family will be sent.
Then just when I began to think
it wasn’t meant to be,
there were people standing there
just gazing down at me.
I knew them in a heartbeat
I could tell they felt it too.
They said, “We have been searching for
a special bun like you.”
Now every night I say a prayer
to all the Gods that be.
Thank you for the life I live
and all you’ve given me.
But most of all protect the bunnies
in the pound and on the street.
And send a Rabbit Rescue Person
to lift them off their feet.
Thank you to everyone who helps to make this circle bigger each day.