I have a service dog, a handsome red and white American Staffordshire Terrier. One day we were in the grocery store. Yeager was trotting along by my side and I was listening to music through the earphones pushed deep in my ears to block out the sounds of strangers. Anxiety, like Yeager, is my constant companion. I stop to grab something off a shelf and I see an older man, and on his arm, there is a very old and frail woman. He looked right at me so I removed my earbuds and allowed a stranger into my life.
“Can my wife pet your dog?” he asked.
I nodded yes. He led his wife over to Yeager.
“She had a dog just like this as a child.” He said to me. “She misses her dog very much.”
She got close to Yeager, her knees buckled and her husband guided her to the floor as Yeager pressed his big muscular body into her chest. I moved to correct him but her husband waved me off. Just as Yeager cranked his big head back to lick her face gently, she began to sob and murmur to him in what sounded like German. She was hanging on his neck crying and her sleeve slipped up to reveal a tattoo of numbers, faded and blurred with time on her forearm. My heart shattered. This woman was a Holocaust survivor.
Time stood still. All I could see was my dog, gently licking the tears off her face as she poured out her heart to him about old hurts. Eventually, she stopped sobbing and let go of Yeager’s neck. Her husband took her arm gently and helped her up. She held her hand out to me, thanked me for indulging her, and apologized for being so emotional. I wiped the tears away from my eyes and murmured something inadequate for the value of the moment. She took her husband’s arm once again.
I was about to go when she stopped and turned to me, and asked in a weary voice, “Do you think my dog forgives me?”
I looked in her tired eyes, and tried to imagine the circumstances that lead her to the camp, and how she lost her dog. I wanted so much to reassure her that it wasn’t her fault, that life had been cruel to her. I wanted to reach out to her, to say something that could make it all better, but as a Jew, I know there are no words big enough to wipe away the Holocaust.
“Dogs,” I said, “have an amazing capacity to forgive. Your dog has always been with you, and he never stopped loving you or wanting to protect you.”
Through my tears I saw her shoulders sag a moment and then she straightened up and turned back to go. Her husband smiled at me and said nothing. No words were necessary.