Valentine’s Day: Do you have the love of a dog?

Bella the Maremma sheepdog hiking at Saltese Flats in Spokane Valley

“Do you get enough love?”

I would stroke his nose and whisper those words into his ears as he lay beside me on the couch.

He could never answer me, of course. Instead, he would lay his head in my lap and let me rest my hand on his fur.

Today, she rests on the couch and I stroke her nose.

I whisper into her ears:

“Do you get too much love?”

angela of noses and toes with her first Maremma sheepdog Shep

Me and Shep

The love of a dog

It is a tremendous thing to earn the love of a dog.

Shep came to me as a rescue when he was two years old. A Maremma sheepdog, his instinct was to be wary of strangers, distrustful of anything new.

Oh, he was, even distrustful of me. We were together for two, maybe three, years before we truly connected.

Easily, it wasn’t until I gave up an illustrious career in adult slo-pitch in Calgary and opted for hiking boots over softball cleats and city-girl high heels that we really formed a bond.

Shep the Maremma sheepdog who taught me what it means to have the love of a dog

Shep at High River, Alberta

And what a bond it was.

“When you two look at each other, there’s such a deep love, like a romantic love,” my friend Dana told me once. “That’s pretty special.”

Indeed. He saved me on so many occasions, being the excuse to not venture out on nights I would rather do nothing.

He stood between me and anyone he perceived to be a threat.

He slept at the foot of my bed, prepared to ward off any intruder.

He even picked my husband for me.

Of course, I knew as Shep’s life progressed that I would be devastated when he died. But I also knew I would never again be without a dog in my life, especially a Maremma sheepdog.

Her protection

With Shep, I knew I had a dog that would fight for me, die for me.

He was my protection.

Now, even five years into life with Bella, the switch is flipped.

Bella in the grass at Hauser Lake, Idaho

Bella at Hauser Lake, Idaho

I feel like her protection.

She is anxious around new people, shy or tense in situations where she is uncomfortable.

She bolts when sudden loud noises occur.

I must guard her from these times.

In return, she stays with me, never more than a few feet from mine. If I move to the kitchen, she moves with me.

When I’m in my office, she’s outside the door.

Sitting in the living room, she’s at my end of the couch, demanding rubs.

She loves to be held, snuggled, rubbed … protected.

Coming home

Dogs are nonverbal and basically helpless, writes Patricia McConnell, Ph. D. and CAAB Emeritus, an applied animal behaviorist who has been working with, studying and writing about dogs for more than 25 years.

They are, in many ways, like children.

They communicate with us, but not with words. With the wag of a tail, a telling bark, a whimper.

They need us to let them out to pee, to feed them, and to understand when they are in pain.

“Thus,” McConnell says, “dogs elicit primal emotions from us that are central to our being. Our brain, hormones and behavior are designed to respond to young, helpless mammals.”

They are our children but with their instinct to protect and love us, they are also our parents.

“Not many of us, even those who have had good, caring parents, grew up feeling unconditionally loved,” McConnell says. “Not many parents that I know feel like they’ve pulled it off as well as they wish they had. And yet, dogs are experts at it.

“How often in the rest of your life, do you feel like THE BEST THING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD? … What a gift.”

And that’s all wrapped up in a big ball of fur with deep, soulful eyes and her 13 or 14 different barks.

She was in the car when I walked out of Spokane airport Thursday. I was supposed to be home from my trip to New York City Wednesday night but Chicago weather caused me to miss my flight and be late by a half day.

She saw me and she started throwing her rear end back and forth, back and forth.

She was as excited to see me as I was to see her.

Bella hiking near Liberty Lake, Washington

Bella near Liberty Lake

I hate being away from her. I put my face in her neck and I breathed deeply, sucking in all the love and affection I’d been missing while away since last Saturday.

(My husband was there, too, and good grief, it was good to get a big ol’ bear hug from him, too.)

Shep taught me what love is, what it means to be loved and what it means to be protected. In so many ways, I tried to love him back and I agonize sometimes that I didn’t give him as good a life or as much of me as I could have or should have.

Nonetheless, he opened me up to the possibility of loving more and endlessly.

With Bella, I want to give her everything I have. We hike, we watch sunrises together, we watch sunsets together, we sit on beaches and listen to the water lap the shore, we do as much as we can together.

And sometimes I don’t know how much more I can love her.

Bella the Maremma sheepdog in the woods near Plantes Ferry, Spokane Valley

Bella at Plantes Ferry

There is always a way. Every day, she does something, looks at me some way, or puts her paw on my leg to tell me it’s time for attention.

I feel my heart grow bigger.

She makes every part of my day better, just by being next to me.

I am in love with her.

And now I ask you. Are you in love with your dog?

All around the circle

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It’s no surprise that the topic for this week’s blog circle is love. Head over to my friend Terri Jankelow of Terri J Photography, photographing pets and people in Toronto.

Terri starts your whirlwind journey of love around the world. When you get to the bottom of her blog post, click the next link and carry on through the circle until you find yourself back here.


Right where you belong.

31 thoughts on “Valentine’s Day: Do you have the love of a dog?”

  1. Pingback: Safely home: How a Pyr found his way to Spokane

  2. Pingback: A different way to look at the rule of thirds | Noses & Toes Pet Photography

  3. Pingback: Home safe home: How a lost Great Pyrenees found his way to Spokane

  4. I love my Jack. And when he looks at me with all the trust in his world my heart hurts from being so content. Beautiful post.

    Love the pics too.

  5. Oh, I am absolutely in love with my dogs. Odin is my Great Pyrenees and it seems like him and Shep were a lot alike. Odin would protect me at all costs. Even if he’s only protecting me from leaves rustling outside 🙂

  6. Loved reading this! Made me tear up a couple times, especially the Patricia Mcconnell quotes. We are so very lucky to share our lives with dogs.

  7. I understand this feeling all too well. My girl is my service dog, and she saves my life every single day. Dogs are so remarkable, aren’t they?!

  8. The Dash Kitten Crew

    Our cats are loved every day and spoiled. Honestly? I forget Valentine’s and Birthdays because I don’t feel I can give them more than the best love every day.

    The love and commitment we give to our pets is as important as human love. It matters even if our loved ones can’t speak. They have a tail to wag, a meow to make and a bark or purr to make life fun. Without them our lives are poorer.

  9. I might split hairs and state that I love my dog dearly but I am not in love with her. I do prove my love all the time, though–you wouldn’t believe the things I do for my dog. Just today I spent three hours shoveling trails after the latest snow storm.

  10. Every dog we connect with brings us their own special gift. Whilst Shep and Bella are different, they have both given you different things. I feel for people who don’t have that kind of connection. They miss out of so much!

  11. What a beautiful posts – dogs are our everything, totally in love with them! The human-animal bond we develop with dogs is spectacular and ever changing, like you mentioned. But at it’s core, it is a true ‘relationship’ with a special language all its own.

  12. I am totally in love with Layla, she is my everything and will do anything and everything for her to keep her safe.. I did the same for Baby R.I.P. especially through the abusive relationship and when we managed to run.

  13. Michelle & The Paw Pack

    Such a beautiful post, coupled with beautiful pictures of your loves. I’m 100% in love with my dogs too. Dogs are such amazing beings, and I’ve learned so much from sharing my life with them, not least of all about love.

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