Chris Smith: Betty beamed back a dog’s wonderful love
Apologies in advance for the emotional memories it may bring surging back for me to mention that we left a veterinary hospital the other day without Betty.
Maybe you’d seen us out together. I was the nondescript guy leashed to a conspicuously adorable, gentle, silky coated, full-figured, bright-eyed and smiling black-and-white Australian shepherd.
She was technically our son Max’s dog. He and Diane picked her from a litter at a ranch in Mendocino County’s Potter Valley when he was 12. Max is 26 now and has been out and about a good deal since he graduated from Montgomery in 2008.
Betty and I, well, I’ve been thinking a lot about what this was between the two of us. You’ve probably done the same. You lose a dog and your heart breaks with such force that you can’t help but wonder what in the world that love is about.
IT FEELS TO ME that we’re largely reflecting back, moon-like, dog love, the love that dogs shower on us.
Think of all the stories of people who’ve been won over by a dog they initially wanted nothing to do with.
A puppy comes into a home and Dad grumbles and grouses and declares he doesn’t want to see it, hear it, smell it or be expected to have any responsibility for it. Or someone who’s always had big dogs grimaces at a request to consider taking in a rescue that couldn’t fill a teacup.
And soon, good heavens, the two of them are curled up on the couch, blanketed in bliss, and nothing and nobody can pry them apart. What happened, I’m thinking, is that the dog melted the person’s resistance with a look or touch or whimper that asked in essence, may I love you?
So, yes, I blame dogs for the astounding way that we come to cherish them. They started it.
SOME WILL SAY that to ascribe love to a dog is to project or to anthropomorphize. And, hey, it may be.
I’m open to the possibility that there’s a scientific explanation for everything a dog does to or for a human. For them to snuggle, to lick a face, to defend, to initiate play, that surely all fits within pack behavior and survival strategy.
It could be that I was just Betty’s default lead Homo sapien. Quite possibly I read too much into it when she suddenly stepped across the car console to kiss me, or she took the leash into her mouth at crosswalks and led me across, or she jumped onto the bed (when she still could) and set her chin on my chest and looked into my eyes.
Maybe none of what radiates from a dog is love. But then, what it is that we feel for them?
So much of what Betty got from me, I’m sure, was a simple casting back of what I got from her. Moonlight is really just reflected sunlight.
Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and firstname.lastname@example.org.