And now for an embarrassing admission; I love my dog so much it almost makes my eyes bleed.
I’m the weirdo taking (and posting, friends on Facebook will confirm) daily pics of my dog sleeping, chewing on his bone, standing somewhere and staring at me. I find these moments riveting, and I shamelessly exhibit them as if everyone else has the same inexplicable weakness for a middle aged, stinky Great Dane with too-long claws and a life threatening illness that requires daily medication.
When he yawns, I swoon. When he shakes his head, stopping when his ear is inside out and looks at me, bewildered, I giggle. When he turns one extra time before he eases his bones into bed, I laugh with delight.
What is it with me and this dog?
Based on all the other dorky pet pics I see every day, it’s safe to assume I’m not alone. But it still defies reason that this kind of behavior continues. I am an otherwise sane, contemplative and serious person marching about with furrowed brow as I attend to the duties of the day.
Maybe that’s part of the answer. The only time I really feel child-like and free is in the presence of my dog.
That’s been true my whole life. Even when I was an actual child, I rarely felt child-like or free unless I was in the presence of my then-dog, who was a lot like my dog today. Smaller, neater and a totally different breed, but white with black spots, gentle eyes, and perhaps not the sharpest of intellects.
My happiest childhood memories—of which there are appallingly few, involve traipsing through the Massachusetts forests with my pointer, digging around the skunk cabbage that grew by the stream in spring, exploring the meadow at the end of the trees (beyond which was a mental institution where my dog—remember, this was before leash laws—used to go when we let him out to visit the mental patients who fed him ham sandwiches from the vending machine), and curling up under the piano. My dog fitted perfectly to my ribs as if we were Russian nesting dolls, and we dozed together in a block of sun.
When we moved to England, we had to leave that dog behind because of the strict quarantine laws, and it permanently damaged my eight-year-old heart. When we came back two years later and went to pick him up, his face was completely grey, and the fact of his mortality crushingly evident. He was with me for three more years after that, through move after move, the only sentient being I could count on to love me openly and without complication.
Without him, I’d likely have ended up in the mental institution beyond the meadow myself, feeding some other dog ham sandwiches from the vending machine.
Old habits die hard.
To this day the smell of my dog’s fur, the feel of his rough padded feet against my thumb, and even his madly wagging whip-like tail can calm and soothe me like no chemical compound ever could.
I have many profound loves: my children, my husband, my sister and brother, my mom and my friends, and other things too; yoga, reading, writing, cycling—life—but my dog is my oasis. He gives me a direct connection the the meat of existence. I touch him, I plug in, and it feels like prayer. There are no layers of logic to muddle through, no contradictory thoughts, there is just me, this animal, and love.
So when I next post a picture of a big goofy, goggled eyed mutt with his lip caught in his fang, please forgive me. You’ll understand that he is my security blanket, my therapist, and my link to innocence and joy. And maybe you’ll give yourself permission to post your silly picture of your dog or cat or bird or whatever is winding your clock.
And if you do, I promise I will smile and hit “like”, and hope your animal lives forever.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman