Images of President George H.W. Bush’s service dog lying faithfully near the former leader’s casket encapsulated the gentleness and loyalty of the animal often designated as “man’s best friend.” The whole world was taken by the beautiful sight and reminded of just how wonderful dogs can be. I suspect that almost every person has a story of a wonderful pup that brought joy into his/her life. There is something almost spiritual about the relationship between humans and their dogs, a bond that is pure, guileless and angelic. Most of us have experienced the unconditional love derived from having such gentle creatures in our world.
I’ve often told the story of the little white hound that came mysteriously to our front door right after the death of my father. He had no identification and nobody in the neighborhood had ever before seen him, and yet there he was. He came each night to guard our home and then went on his rounds during the day. He was sweet and friendly, seemingly aware that we were frightened and fragile. Of all the houses on the street he somehow chose ours and we felt as though he had been sent from heaven to ease our pain and our fears. We called him Whitey and waited patiently each afternoon for him to return to us secretly hoping that he would choose us to be his permanent family even as our mother warned us that he might one day return to his rightful owners.
We eventually became confident enough to put him in our backyard behind a chain link fence where he appeared to be quite content to stay. Then one morning he was gone never again to return. He had done his magic, taking us through the toughest days of our grief. Our mother told us that it was time for him to move on to someone else who needed him more. He had been our miracle for just enough time to help us to adjust to our new normal. We would never forget him and the joy that he brought us and we would always believe that he was a special gift to us from heaven.
A few years later we bought another dog, a collie as lovely as Lassie of television fame. His name was Buddy and he was as good and faithful as any creature might be. He became a kind of mascot for the entire street where we lived, watching after not just our family but many of the other children on our block. We loved him like he was a brother and took it for granted that he would always be with us. He carried us through our childhoods and then one day became sick and died. Our trauma was as deep as if he had been a little brother who passed away.
My husband and I have had two dogs during our time together, both female Golden Retrievers. The first had been named Red before we brought her home. She was a perfect dog in every possible way. Like Buddy she was beloved by all of our neighbors because she had not a mean bone in her body unless she was protecting one of us. When she died our hearts were so broken that we felt unable to go through such an experience ever again. Our daughters convinced us that our grief would be lessened if we brought a new puppy into our home and so we found Scarlet who was as sassy as the famous character from literature who went by that name. She too burrowed into our hearts.
Dogs sense our moods and seem to know exactly how to react to the way we are feeling. If we are sad they snuggle with us and quietly show us how much they care. When we are happy they play with us. If we are sick they watch over us. They warn us of dangers and let us know whom we might trust. Their instincts are attuned to our hearts. They are innocents who may annoy us with their mischief but never betray us.
I do not have a dog now. After Scarlet died we decided to remain without a pet for a time. Instead we enjoy our grand dogs, five cute little creatures who are as different from one another as any brood might be. Cooper, a pug, is the elder among them. He has spent many sleepovers at my house while his family travels. He’s a sweet fellow who loves to cuddle and only barks when he wants food. I’ve grown rather close to him over the years so when he became seriously ill and in need of surgery this past fall I was greatly concerned.
It took him quite a while to recover from his illness and he lost a great deal of weight and his usual personality. I worried incessantly about him but my fears were unfounded because he slowly began to revert to his old ways. When I visited his home last week he greeted me with an insistent bark that told me he wanted me to provide him with his dinner. I felt overjoyed as I filled his bowl and watched him devour the food and then saunter over so that I might scratch his back. We had a moment together that was quite touching. I wanted to spend the rest of the evening petting him and letting him know how much I loved him but I had math tutoring to do with my grandsons, so Cooper and I had to be content with knowing that we really do love each other.
Horses are enchantingly beautiful and cats are mysteriously lovely, but dogs are gifts for our souls. They are the perfect companions who ask for little more than nourishment, a few pats on the rump, and space to run and play. They love and protect us and bring a kind of magic into our lives. It’s little wonder that we notice that God spelled backwards is dog. They are angelic creatures and we are the fortunate recipients of their loving presence.