I believe that a dog is a miracle wrapped in fur.
Not one to languish on the couch, a particularly severe New Hampshire winter had me hunkered down in front of the TV recently, swaddled in microfleece and the incomparable warmth and companionship of my dogs. Anyone who lives as intimately with their dogs as I do knows what I’m talking about. Choosing to live without a cell phone, Internet service or cable TV, my viewing choices are limited to the local network affiliate or public TV. It was the first time I’d sat in front of a TV in months and I was thrilled to see the programming included something I was actually interested in — a documentary on dogs. I was immediately engaged. As the genteel British narrator intoned and enumerated all the qualities that make a dog unlike any animal on earth, the voice ushered me back to my childhood evenings of stealth reading with a flashlight and a James Herriott book. His veterinary tales always managed to fill my heart and break it all at once. As I was lulled into the stimulation of the documentary, the narrator calmly read a statistic about canines that was like a steel toed boot in the gut: we kill half a million of them a year. I tried to imagine where this unimaginable slaughter took place–only in America? Worldwide? The answer wasn’t revealed. I felt faint.
I live with my dogs much as I imagine Jane Goodall lives with her apes–with blissful observation and devotion. They are not at all an afterthought of my day. As they are always there for me, I make it a point to always be there for them. This is why I forego the distractions of modern life such as cellphones and the like. I choose to give the only time I have left in my day to the animals who share my life and give so much to me.
The worries of the past few years–layoffs, friends’ illnesses, and the estrangement from my only child are diminished and more manageable with the goodness and grace a dog brings to one’s life. Sometimes I think I can hide how preoccupied I am by these concerns. My dogs aren’t fooled. As loving, generous and irreplaceable as my female dog is, it’s my male dog who truly amazes me. He knows me like that gnarled pig knuckle he’s been working on for the past week. He’s got it hidden behind the needlepoint pillow on the window seat. I’ve never made a trek to the bathroom in the middle of the night without him padding down the long hall next to me and waiting politely outside the door, no matter how frigid the house is. And sometimes the fury of his abundant energy is so unbridled he reminds me of a wild stallion shoved into a little terrier’s body. Yet, he can be as tender as a petal. He is so over the top in indulging me with his affection, he can be a borderline fruitcake. Sometimes when I wake in the night, my soul still struggling with something for which I’ve found no resolution, he is laying on his back, cheek to cheek with me; legs thrust stiffly upright–kind of a cross between a dead cow and a husband. What I can tell from this pose is that he has watched me vigilantly during the night and he has decided in his dog brain that this is the best way to comfort me.
I don’t know what allows man to be so unfailingly cruel to dogs and to animals in general, but I do know that it is a failure of public policy of the most egregious kind. Millions of animals live in terror and despair. We discard them like water bottles or any other negligible consumer good when we fail to help them become the beings they are meant to be.
I can’t think of many people who I would describe as noble, but the average dog, if treated well, is capable of the most exquisite nobility. I believe we have to find a way to protect our greatest protectors. I believe a dog is a miracle wrapped in fur.
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