“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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.