Pretty Girl

May 6, 2014 | By | Comments (12)


Illustration by Jack Unruh

Illustration by Jack Unruh

To most, she looked like she didn’t stand a chance. But they looked at her and saw different.

Her name was perfect.

She came to them in the dead of night, in the cold. She was more than half dead, starved down to bones, her hair completely eaten away by mange. She had been run off from more than one yard when she finally crept into an empty doghouse in the trees beyond my mother’s yard. At least she was out of the wind.

They found her, my mother and brother, in the daylight of the next day. They could not even tell, at first, she was a dog.

“And it broke my heart,” my mother said.

They did not call the vet because she knew what the vet would do. She was too far gone to save; any fool could see that. My mama lives in the country and has to run off two wandering dogs a week, but this time, “I just couldn’t. She couldn’t even get up.” How do you run off a dog that cannot stand?

The broke-down dog had stumbled on two people who hate to give up on anything, even a month-old newspaper. They save batteries that have not had a spark of anything in them for a long, long time. My mother keeps pens that stopped writing in 1974. My point is, there is always a little use, a little good, a little life left in anything, and who are they to decide when something is done for good.

My brother Mark looked at her, at her tragic face, and named her.

“Hey, Pretty Girl,” he said.

It was like he could see beyond the ruin, or maybe into it. I don’t know.

Her hips were bad, which was probably why she was discarded in the first place, and her teeth were worn down. Her eyes were clouded. But they fed her, and gave her water, and bathed her in burnt motor oil, the way my people have been curing the mange for generations. They got her looking less atrocious, and then they called the vet.

The vet found she had heartworms. She was walking dead, anyway, at her age. It was then I saw her, still a sack of bones. It would be a kindness, I told my mother, to put her down. She nodded her head.

A month later I pulled into the driveway to see a beautiful white German shepherd standing watch at the front of the house. It was not a miracle; her ailments did not magically cease. But together, my mother and brother had tended her, and even let her live in the house. She ate people food, and drank buttermilk out of an aluminum pie tin. She was supposed to last, at most, a few weeks or months. She lived three more years—decades, in dog years—following my brother to the garden to watch for snakes and listen for thunder.

“I prayed for her,” my mother said. “Some people say you ain’t supposed to pray for a dog, but…” And then after the gift of years, Pretty Girl began to fail, and died. She is buried in the mountain pasture.

The hot weather will be on us soon. The garden is already planted. Some things were planted according to science, according to soil and weather. And some things were planted according to lore, the shape of the moon, and more. That is fine with me. There are things we cannot explain, things beyond science, like how a man could name a ravaged and dying dog, and have her rise inside that, somehow, to make it true.


  1. Charlene Hill

    I love Rick Bragg! He is a wonderful and talented writer. I must say that he is really special to me, because he is a Southern Boy!! I look forward to his stories in Southern Living each month. He writes from the heart, and he moves my heart with his writings.

    November 14, 2015 at 6:10 pm
  2. Pretty Girl

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    October 28, 2015 at 8:43 am
  3. Belinda

    Love Rick’s writing style and his books. He is a true son of the south and he hits the nail on the head when describing all that is southern. He’s one of a kind!

    June 14, 2015 at 11:19 pm
  4. Ed Tisdale

    Rick Bragg has strung together a lot of words over the years and won prizes for the beauty and poetry of them. AVA’S MAN meant a lot to me. I had a tiny, feisty, grandmother something like Ava, and I never knew my granddaddies. I read about Charlie Bundrum from time to time to dream about what it would have been like. I never thought his words could move me more until PRETTY GIRL. Getting such power and emotion in a short piece is a testament to his mastery of his craft.

    March 19, 2015 at 3:28 pm
  5. Rick Bragg’s piece in Southern Living | Porch Thinkin'
    March 3, 2015 at 6:25 am
  6. Glenna banano

    My dog Elvis came to me one Sunday morning early. I opened my front door early to check on my red birds feeder and there he was. He had been beated up by someone’s big dog in the neighborhood and came to me for help. I brought him into the house and it was the beginning of our relationship. I had just lost my little wiener dog of 15 yrs. and Elvis shows up. I nursed him back to health and that was 2 yrs. ago. My kids are amazed at how much he loves me. Thank god for little companions.

    August 31, 2014 at 12:18 pm
  7. lori Wickline

    When I get my new Southern Living I always turn to the last page first. I can’t say enough about Rick Bragg. I love his unique writing style. His stories capture simpler times,are full of heart and humor. This one resonates with me because of the beautiful picture of “hope” it paints. Thank you again! Keep ’em coming.

    June 28, 2014 at 6:36 am
  8. wordweaversinternational


    May 30, 2014 at 5:46 pm
  9. Shelley Bueche

    Rick Bragg is a southern gem, everything he writes, I read!

    May 12, 2014 at 10:59 am
  10. Sherri Riley

    Wonderfully written. Heart wrenching, yet beautiful. I’ve passed it on to many of my fellow animal lovers.

    May 10, 2014 at 3:09 pm
  11. Christine Perkell

    Very lovely piece. Thank you so much.

    May 7, 2014 at 2:34 pm
  12. Hannah Beth

    Beautiful and touching.

    May 7, 2014 at 8:42 am

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