They can’t speak English, but they can communicate in the language of the heart. The comfort of a warm tongue and a cold wet nose in your face and your personal space is used to best effect by your four-legged furry friend when you’re feeling down. It’s a paw on your thigh, the wordless hug that says “I’m here for you. Pet me so you’ll feel better.”
And then there’s tailwag therapy. The canine equivalent of a smile. Next to our desire to commiserate about (or scapegoat) weather, there is nothing like the furiously wagging tail of a friendly dog, going back and forth like a windshield wiper on the highest setting, to break the ice between strangers and bring a smile to even the most jaded and cynical individuals. They have this undeniable knack of making a connection with us–and maybe it works so well because they look so different from us. Just as their outlook on life is sometimes so different from ours.
Dogs are sensitive yet selfless souls. One look in their liquid brown eyes and you can see amazing empathy in their depths. They know when you’re sad. Fetching their leash or bringing their favourite squeaky toy to you is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt, calculated to get you out of your doldrums by engaging in play with them.
Even being a complete stranger doesn’t stop them from accepting you. Several years ago, just before I was to embark on a 20 km bike ride, one itty-bitty Chihuahua puppy astounded me by promptly bounding out of its owner’s property the moment the gate was open. This small but stalwart bundle of energy made a beeline for me. His boisterous brothers and sisters held back, but made their presences known with their nonstop yipping and yapping. I barely had time to get the kickstand on my bike down before the lone breakout effusively and uninhibitedly welcomed me like a long-lost littermate. I have never known anyone, before, since or then, family or friend, to shower me with that kind of unconditional affection in a few short seconds.
They know when you’re sick, sometimes even before their human does. I’ve lost count of how many times humans have had their quality of life improved because the family pet has detected the early signs of cancer, or saved them from a fire or a drowning. To say nothing of the everyday heroics of dogs on duty who sniff out drugs at airports, catch criminals, protect the farmer’s sheep, or visit senior citizens. Work isn’t just work to them, as we humans might regard it; it’s another form of fitness to dogs, and a chance to socialize with humans albeit in a different environment.
Dogs give so much and ask for so little. A scratch on the belly. A bowl of water and kibble. A walk in the park. They’ll even put up with our attempts to anthromorphize them, with clothes, hats and booties, with the indulgence of an older sibling or new parent. They are our companions on a journey that we must all make, softening the blow when circumstance is unkind to us, and enriching our loves even further when our cup is brimming. Often, their time with us is too short; but its very brevity means that we will not forget the moments that they make with us, nor will we fail to look back on their sacrifices with a mix of sorrow, gratitude, and wistful sentimentality.