I've just read Nalo Hopkinson's short story "A Raggy Dog, a Shaggy Dog" (available for free online from Apex Magazine). It's an odd, quirky tale about an orchid-loving lady who's constantly setting off the fire alarms and sprinkler systems in the flats where she lives, and the orchidnated rat which she ends up sending off on a mission to find her soulmate.

My question is: how does the title connect to the story?

"A Raggy Dog, a Shaggy Dog" is a quote from the poem "My Dog" by Emily Lewis, a contributor to Ellen Bailey's poetry website. I've read the poem, but I'm still struggling to see its relevance to the Hopkinson story. There's a small pet-like animal in the story - namely, the rat - but Tammy isn't looking for it; she's sending it on a mission. She also treats her orchids like pets, but again she's not looking for them like the narrator of the dog poem. So where's the connection?


1 Answer 1


Tammy Griggs, the story's narrator, loves orchids: she makes a living making plant arrangements, which may include orchids, she has tattoos of orchids on her body, her apartment is like an orchid greenhouse, and, one night, she events even goes to bed with an orchid petal in her mouth (a blue orchid petal that she found by a dumpster).

We also find out that she has difficulty finding the right kind of person for a relationship. One of her past lovers, Sam, "smelled good" but didn't stay. Since then, she has been mostly unlucky; the other men she has met "just don't smell right". She places personal ads and chats people up, but without success.

Orchids can't attract a partner; they need to attract pollinators, typically insects, by means of scents that mimic pheromones. One night, Tammy sees or dreams that she sees, a rat that gets attracted to one of her orchids; when it leaves her apartment, it appears to fly away on "gossamer wings". There seem to be several such rats in the city, which children describe as angels. Tammy thinks that a specific orchid variety, the Vanilla planifolia, must have gotten seeds on a rat's fur; after germinating, these seeds "put roots down into [the rat's] bloodstream", made petals that could serve as wings grow out of the rat's body, and its "tendrils growing up into [the rat's] brain cells" force the rat to take care of the orchid's pollination.

Tammy also tells a story from India about a trick to bond a person to you: you need to cook rice for them and while the rice is boiling, "you have to squat with your naked genitals over the pot. The steam from the cooking rice will heat you up, and you’ll sweat salty crotch sweat pheromones into the pot to flavour it." The person who eats the rice will be "yours forever".

Now that she has access to an "orchid rat", the Indian story gives her an idea. She has dropped her sweat pheromones on a Vanilla planifolia orchid, so now she tattoos her contact details on the rat's ear and lets the rat climb onto it, so it gets impregnated with her sweat pheromones. Then she lets it go, like a improvised personal Cupid (cf. the angels that the children saw) that uses pheromones instead of gold-tipped arrows.

In what way is the dog poem relevant? At the end of the story, Tammy lets the rat go with the words, "go fetch!", words that are usually spoken to a dog. However, in this case the rat/dog is expected to fetch a partner instead of a stick. The stanza quoted below the story's title comes from a poem about someone who ostensibly wants to find back her dog, which has run away. However, dogs can also be used as a way of meeting other people; especially walking your dog can create many opportunities for meeting new people and possibly meeting a partner. So the end of the story rewrites the poem as being about a means to find a partner. Asking people whether they have seen the dog is a way of meeting new people.

We can find several points of contrast between the stanza and the story:

  • The first words: "Have you seen ..." versus "There you are. Right on time." While the dog is not where it is expected to be, Tammy finds that the rat appears just when she needs her.
  • "[H]e thinks" versus Tammy's comment on the rat, "I think the orchid made you do it": the dog owner thinks the dog has a mind of its own, while Tammy thinks the orchid controls the rat through "tendrils growing up into [the rat's] brain cells". As a consequence, "[n]ow [the rat] can only fetch and carry for a plant".
  • The dog perpetrates "mischief" while the rat has "lost the urge to destroy [the orchid]".

In addition to the "go fetch!" mentioned above, there is another parallel between the dog and the rat in the sense that the "raggy" and "shaggy" (to describe the dog) is mirrored in the "my ugly, furry friend" in the story.

(Without the attribution to Emily Lewis, the stanza would even look like something that Tammy is familiar with and that contributed to the idea of using the rat as a "scent messenger".)

Update: In the introduction or preface to the story in the collection Falling in Love with Hominids, Hopkinson wrote that the story was "spawned" by one of the word games she played during her stay as writer-in-residence at the University of Columbia in Canada and that

it is [her] fantastical paean to the trials of geek dating, and to imaginatively overcoming them.

  • This is a good summary of the story, but I feel like you haven't spent enough space on actually answering the question (just the penultimate paragraph). The link between the rat and finding a partner is clear, the link between finding a partner and the dog less so. Could you expand some more on why this is a plausible (re)interpretation of the poem in the context of the story?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 22:13
  • @Randal'Thor I reread the story (once more) and added some details that contrast the dog and the rat.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 14:55

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