Feeling a tad raw today. A combination of the untold suffering in the world, worries about the future (mine, yours, our country’s, humanity), and recovering from facial surgery on an eyelid–just a small carcinoma, but eyelid surgery is not to be recommended. Nor is anesthesia during reconstructive surgery when you have CFS and POTS symptoms. I’m back to wobbling all over, running out of gas way too soon, and having the mental acuity of a cabbage. (Example: It took a few seconds to find the name for “the light green coleslaw vegetable” in my brain. At least I started out being descriptive.)
Personally, it’s all good news. The surgeon says in six to twelve months my face will be back to normal. I have forgiven him for not adding in a neck lift while he put my eyelids back together. I am 100% confident that I’ll be back to where I was energy/balance wise in a few weeks or so. I am savoring the beautiful, sunny weather here (60’s today!), and continue to be in awe of living in such a beautiful place.
And globally? Let’s just say that we all need to love, and be loved, more than ever. That must be why, when looking for a topic to write about, I was drawn to my book, For the Love of a Dog. Unlike The Other End of the Leash, it’s sales were just okay, but I loved writing it. So much to learn about comparative emotions in people and dogs, including what might be the same, what might be different. It’s been eighteen years since I wrote it, so, of course, we’ve learned a lot since then. But the sections on the love between people and dogs, I suspect, will be eternal. Today feels like a good day to focus on that.
Here’s the Afterword:
As I write this, it’s been a year since Luke died, almost to the day. It’s snowing now, the white flakes sifting onto Luke’s memorial stone in the high pasture. Lassie is lying on the sheepskin at my feet. She is fine now, as am I. A few months after Luke’s death, Lassie began to beg me to let her work sheep, so I opened the gate to the pen and asked her to drive the sheep to the far corner. I helped her at first, standing behind her to back her up as she faced off the flock’s toughest sheep, the sheep only Luke would’ve taken on before. She gathered her courage step by step, leaning forward into the job, committed to holding her ground, taking over from her father. She works like a dream now, steady and brave each night as she holds the sheep off the feeders so I don’t get trampled. She sparkles with joy every evening when she picks up her toys, flings them through the air, teases me to grab hold and play tug of war with her.
I’m fine now too. I still miss Luke, I miss him a lot. A part of me died with Luke, as always happens when someone we love deeply dies. But a part of Luke will always live on in me, and my heart doesn’t hurt the way it did before. There are days when I still tear up over Luke, occasional days in which I give in to a good cry. But those days are lessening, and it feels in my heart that Luke and I have both moved on.
I live on the farm with three dogs now, with Lassie and Pip and Tulip, and I love each of them deeply. My love for each dog is different—Tulip is my clown, my stand up comedian, who I can count on to cheer me up on the darkest day with her puppy-like gamboling and radiant eyes. She’s dozing in the sun now, sprawled on the couch after staying up last night to warn the coyotes away. Pip, my sweet and gentle Pippy Tay, is old now, almost deaf and often wobbly. She follows me everywhere, refusing to be left alone, even for a minute. She’s lying beside me now, just a few feet away. I feel a desire to ease her remaining days that is so strong it makes my heart expand just writing about it.
And Lassie? Oh, Lassie. I named her after the famous Lassie, the imaginary dog everyone wants but rarely gets, who seems to live and breathe just to make you happy. Lassie is creamery butter, sweet and willing and more pure and true than any human deserves. Like her father, Lassie adores me, pure and simple. If Jim and I move in different directions on the farm, Lassie won’t follow him. She stays with me. If a veterinary technician takes her by the leash and pulls her away for medical tests, she’s too polite to protest, but her head will turn to me, her eyes pleading. As I look at her face, I think of what Alex the talking parrot said to his friend Irene when she had to leave him at a veterinary clinic. “Come here. I love you. I’m sorry. Wanna go back.” When I leave Lassie, I have to turn away, walk to the car, put my head down on the steering wheel, breathe a few gulping breaths before I can drive away.
I am not alone in this love for my dogs; I am not neurotic, and I am not crazy. Millions of healthy people love their dogs so profoundly they are willing to risk their lives to save them. I don’t want to romanticize our relationship with dogs—as someone who has worked with canine aggression for seventeen years, I know the dark side of human-dog interactions as well as anyone. It’s not all pretty, as intense, emotional relationships rarely are. We can’t pretend that fear and anger, felt and expressed by members of both species, don’t cause terrible and sometimes long-lasting harm to both people and dogs. Yet it’s the emotion of joy that binds us; a shared happiness that catches us up in giddy, joyful waves, floats us through life together, grinning and amazed at the miracle of our love.
Last night Lassie and I played her favorite game together. Over and over, I tossed her favorite toy across the rug. Each time she leapt after it, then came back to me with her face glowing, her eyes soft and luminous. Her neat little body seemed unable to contain feelings of joy and her love of play. At some point in the middle of our game, I realized I was beaming, a huge smile plastered across my face. For that moment, I was truly and completely happy.
In some ways, it’s really that simple, isn’t it? At their best, that is what dogs do; they make us happy. At our best, we make them happy too. That can only be true because we share so very much with them, and the foundation of what we share is our emotions. Dogs are emotions—living breathing embodiments of fear and anger and joy, emotions we can read on their faces as well as any language.
This emotional connection between our dogs and us isn’t a trivial one. We humans may be brilliant and we may be special, but we are still connected to the rest of life. No one reminds us of that better than our dogs. Perhaps the human condition will always include attempts to remind ourselves that we are separate from the rest of the natural world. We are separate from other animals; it’s undeniably true. But while acknowledging that, we must acknowledge another truth, the truth that we are also the same. That is what dogs and their emotions give us—a connection. A connection to life on earth, to all that binds us and cradles us, lest we begin to feel too alone. Dogs are our bridge– our connection to who we really are, and perhaps most tellingly, who we want to be.
We call them home to us, as if calling for home itself. That’ll do, dogs. Come home to us now, where you belong. Your work is here, in our homes, in our hearts, forever. That’ll do.
If you read through this, thanks for going on that ride for me. Amazing how much love can heal. Tell us about how a dog, or dogs, have loved you, how you have loved them. Please end by passing around tissues.
Laughter, along with love, is the best medicine: I rarely check on my books on Amazon, but in searching around on my blog for topics on “love for dogs,” The Other End of the Leash came up, along with a listing of recent Amazon reviews. Here’s one that made me laugh out loud:
“There is about a paragraph, or two out of the whole book that is useful information . . . Since I was at a loss to think whom this book would be at all useful, I used the pages to pick up dog poop.”
I’m just as vulnerable to criticism as the next person, but this one was so over the top I couldn’t do anything but laugh. No need to defend the book if you read it and liked it, just laugh along with me at the amusing aspects of our big, brazen brains. There is always, always, something to laugh about.
MEANWHILE, down on the farm: Yesterday I had my first (very short) walk off the farm, on a perfect fall day. What a joy. Skip was full of himself and wanted to play with Maggie, who wasn’t done sniffing her way down the trail yet.
Skip finally settled with just looking handsome.
I asked Jim to stop on our way home so I could get a shot of these cows, all lying down under a beautiful sky. As soon as I got out of the car, this happened. Lordy, I love cows. They are so curious. So much for the shot of contented cows lying down under a gorgeous sky.
Here they are about two minutes later, wondering who that handsome man is sitting in the car. Thank you girls, it was nice to meet you.
When we got home the dogs got new antlers to chew on from Duluth Trading Company in Mt. Horeb, those ridiculously expensive chew toys my dogs run hot and cold about. I needed some retail therapy, which works for dog toys better than clothes, right?
Last question for you: Do I have enough flannel shirts?
Answer that, and/or something about dogs and love and us and dogs, and we’ll all be happy.