I was recently bantering with a friend who really doesn’t like dogs. In this person’s mind, dogs are disgusting creatures that jump, lick, beg and sleep on your bed. I was unable to convince my friend that the benefits of owning a dog by far outweigh the negative aspects.
I heard recently about a study that children who grow up with a dog are far less likely to self harm. Dogs have been shown to lower blood pressure. I am constantly in awe over the fact that each of my children makes a special trip to our bedroom every night to say goodnight to each dog. This is at least a ten minute ritual of repeated hugs and kisses! There are three separate knocks on our door every night. In the morning, the first thing the children do (and these are teens and tweens) is hug and kiss the dogs. Same when they return from school.
When a child feels that life is unfair, hugging a dog almost completely erases the pain. I am personally convinced, after owning dogs my entire life, that there is a spiritual component that cannot be explained in mere mortal terms. I feel that G-d gave us dogs as a way to show all of his love and the pure goodness in a way that makes it possible for us to experience. Humans are fickle. Friends and relatives hurt us. But dogs, never. They unconditionally love us whether we have morning breath, have not showered, are sick or look terrible. They only want to please. They will do anything for us, utter loyalty. Their love is pure and true and perfect. And to top all that off, as if it wasn’t enough, they are packaged in perfectly beautiful furry bodies. I have one (black lab rescue) that we dubbed “the velveteen dog.” Her coat is shiny and feels like you’re stroking velvet. She is almost two years old, has never allowed us to give her a real bath, yet she always smells sweet, like maple syrup. The other dog (a goldendoodle) has real hair. She doesn’t shed. Her fur feels synthetic, like a stuffed animal. She is a princess and somehow manages to never get herself dirty! The lab needs constant cuddling. The doodle just needs to be in the same room and know that we are all home. When one of the children is out late at night, doodle sleeps in the living room to wait for them, rather than in her favorite bed in our bedroom!The lab does not wake me in the morning. When she is awake, she will stare at me until I open my eyes. Then she licks me!
Being stuck at home with a chronic illness should have caused me to be depressed. But I have these wonderful, engaging creatures. They force me to get exercise, as they enjoy our walks so much that it’s impossible for me to deny them. The lab literally dances around the entire house when she realizes we are going. If I am too sick for a couple of days in a row, she knows how to “ask” me to take her…with her expressive eyes.
I cannot write about dogs without mentioning the legend of Abe. He was my first large dog, a golden retriever. He was of show dog lineage, beautiful, with a wide square head and a perfect body. He is still the talk of the family, near and extended. He is the reason that my Hungarian grandmother who was terrified of dogs all her life, got dog after dog of her own once she met him. He knew she was frightened and she wouldn’t touch him. He would lay on the floor with his head next to her on the sofa and stare at her until she would say “Vy you don’t speak?” in her thick accent. She felt that his eyes communicated so much, she easily fell in love with him.
Abe was the reason a friend of mine from China learned to love dogs. She had been bitten as a child and was also deathly afraid until she met Abe. Eventually she dog-sat alone in my apartment when I had to be away!
My children know about Abe. I have a photo album and they talk about “meeting” him in the World-to-Come. Abe lived to the age of 12 when the doctor advised us to put him to sleep. He had lost function of the lower half of his body and my husband had to hold up his hind quarters when the dog.needed to relieve himself. My husband met Abe when he was 7 years old and instantly bonded.
So for the naysayers out there, how do you explain that a dog becomes a family’s collective memory? My in-laws even speak about Abe, and they only met him a handful of times. “Oh, that dog was so special,” they still say.
My grandparents had a German Shepherd for five years only. The dog died of kidney disease. That dog was also a legend, and our family continues to tell stories about him. Like the tiny doggy friend that he had. Thunder was an enormous German Shepherd who followed his little friend around all the time and once followed him onto his napping owner’s bed!
Dogs become family members. If you don’t have a dog, you will never understand what it’s like for your bond with the animal to grow every day. It continues to shock me how our relationship with our dog continues to develop until they die. It is never static, always changing and becoming more beautiful. A relationship with a dog is truly a gift from G-d.
But, as with all good things, you need to invest the time in order to reap the benefit. Having a dog is an unselfish act. It is caring for a living creature that needs loads of love and physical care. You have to give love to get love. But the love you get is unlike any other!
Hoping for a time when all people will own dogs and there will be no more strays…