Monday, April 23, 2012

What is it about dogs?

What is it about looking into the eyes of a dog that rips my heart out? There’s a commercial on T.V. where they show the faces of homeless dogs while Sarah McLaughlin sings “In the Arms of an Angel” in the background. I can’t handle it. I have to mute it and look away or by the end of the commercial I’m sobbing uncontrollably. It’s crazy.

I have similar feelings about a movie I dare not mention. If I have to so much as utter the name of it, I lose it. I saw it when I was a little kid and it traumatized me for life. Although it's a Disney film, I do NOT recommend it for children. I suppose I'm going to have to name it here, so you know what movie I’m talking about. *deep breath*  It’s Old Yeller. Now, excuse me while I step away from my computer for a moment….

Okay, I’m back.

I can watch movies where thousands of people are blown to bits and hardly bat an eye. I tell myself it’s only a movie, so it’s no big deal. But if I see a dog mistreated in any way, my heart ends up in a meat grinder, and I’m dabbing tissues at the rivers flowing down my cheeks. Why is that?

Recently, my pug, Pooky, has been having some health issues. And I’m a basket-case. Seriously, it’s scary how much I love that little dog. I realize that there’s a very good chance I will outlive her, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. No one else fills my life the way she does. She keeps vigil while I work at my computer, she snuggles against me all night in my bed, and every morning she waits for me to open my eyes so she can roll over on her back for a tummy rub to start her day. I gush over her like a newborn baby and she is unabashedly devoted to me. Being separated from me is always traumatic for her. When we’re reunited she greets me with tail-wagging joy and kisses of adoration. If a person were as obsessed with me as she is, I’d say he or she needed some serious therapy, but from a dog, this is admirable behavior.

Aside from my personal relationship with Pooky, dogs in general do something to me. And I wonder why. Part of it, I know, is their vulnerability. They are at our mercy, much like small children are with their parents. They trust us to care for them because they can’t care for themselves. But it’s more than that. What is it? Is it their innate capacity to love us unconditionally? Or is it just those damn sad eyes? I don’t know. I really don’t.

What I do know is that dogs touch my heart in a way that no person can. Knowing that they are mistreated by their owners, and killed by the thousands every day because there aren’t enough homes for them, is more than I can bear. As much as I might like to change that, I can’t. All I can do is love the wiggly little snorting critter with the smooshed-in face and the curly tail who’s been entrusted to my care. And, believe me, I do.

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