It’s taken me a long time, way too long, considering how little time we have to live on this precious little jewel of a planet, to fully appreciate the wonder of it all. And by that, I mean everything alive, or seemingly not, like the rock, the moss-covered touchstone, my dogs and I walk to every morning to start the day. What mysteries, what past or even present lives does it hold?
As I reflect on such things, the dogs go about their doggy business of exploring and sniffing every nuance of smell and presence that emerged from the forest during the night to wander across or down the road.
I watch them closely, now more than ever, wondering what interesting stories are being spun and told in their canine minds, and messages going back and forth to each other, as tails wag in excitement and the scent trail carries them along.
I say to Buddy, my big, beautiful German Shepherd, ”whatya got, Buddy? Whatya got?” And he tilts his head the way shepherds do, and lets out a little yelp, as if to say, well, I’ll say it for him, “something really interesting and exciting.”
Sophie, the Cockapoo, pulling hard on the leash, her even more intense sense of smell compelling her to just get on with the exploration. I’ve learned not to let her off-leash; otherwise, if I looked away for too long heaven knows where she might go – off into the woods, up into the barn, somewhere, and me calling over and over, “Sophie, Sophie, Sophie.” She comes in her own good time. I called it mischievous. Sometimes, not being as smart as her, I confess I even called her, “bad girl.” She looks at me as if she’s wondering why I’m not happy to see her. Good point. I am. I just need to get my priorities right, Sophie.
Getting to know both my dogs has been as much a learning experience for me as for them. And how well I do that, I have also learned, makes all the difference in how much we enjoy and appreciate each other.
I had a good teacher. His name was … his name is, Aussie. I can’t bring myself to use the past tense, not yet, or on second thought, not ever. Aussie will always be. There may be dogs that were, and are, as loved and loving. But none more.
I have a friend and neighbor who once told me a few years ago, “dogs are more intelligent than people.”
I think I responded with a somewhat surprised, skeptical look. I may have said, something to the effect that, well, yes, maybe in some intuitive ways.
But I have since come to the conclusion she was right, about the intelligence of dogs in the most important way, a way that, “surpasses all understanding,” words some religious people often use to describe matters of faith.
I’ve had first-hand experience of dogs sensing peoples’ moods, especially when they’re feeling unhappy, and the tears come. I lived on a farm many years ago where two dogs were the best of canine friends. They went everywhere together. The farm was fairly close to a paved road leading to and from Square One, a large suburban mall in Mississauga, near Toronto. One day one of the dogs got hit by a car and was killed. We buried him on a hillside near the house. For weeks, the other dog lay beside his friend’s grave. If anyone said anything to him, to call him over to eat, for example, he would just lie there and look sadly back at us for a moment, and then turn and put his head down again. So we took his food and water over to him.
I was not Aussie’s primary owner when we first met. One day I showed up as a newcomer man-human in the precious place he had shared with Linda since he was a pup. He was about a year-and-half then, an almost full-grown yellow Labrador. I count it as a blessing, that one of the most memorable moments in my life, is when Aussie made me feel welcome. It was as if he already knew me.
It’s true, some dogs, of some breeds, are friendlier than others, and Labs are known to be good-natured. But I say this in all seriousness, dogs have a way of knowing who you are.
Some years later, when circumstances changed, as they often do in human relations, Aussie and I remained good friends, as did we two humans. He always walked over to offer himself up for some petting and a belly-rub. Eventually, I began to call him affectionately, “old man,” as in one old man to another. He was showing his age and getting slower of foot. Not the young fellow anymore who would chase a stick all day if you let him. “Me too, Aussie,” I whispered.
I was glad to be able to help bring him safely home to “the farm” a few days ago.
And now, Aussie, I want to tell you, you are a better ‘man’ that I was in a lot of ways. You taught me a lot about loving, people as well as dogs. And as I write that, and my tears begin again, Buddy gets up from lying a few feet away, to be closer, his eyes knowing.