Dogs are not complicated. Sure, sometimes taking care of them is, and some dogs have psychological issues that do complicate things. But when a dog’s physical and psychological needs are both being met, it is simplicity with fur. Their motivations, their behaviors, their reactions–everything about them is comprehensible and, to some degree, predictable. This is, of course, the total opposite of human beings, whose behavior is frequently an inexplicable mystery. Sometimes I cannot even understand my own behavior. Because of this, I have at times found myself preferring the company of dogs to people.
Dogs are good company, too, because they’re pretty much always happy to see you. I’m not sure that there’s much that feels better than walking into the house after a hard day to a dog’s greeting–no expectations, no disappointment. They’re just excited to see you and express it by wagging their tails, probably my very favorite expression of joy in all of God’s creation. They look up at you filled with pure, concentrated love. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t play with them that morning or that you scolded them last night because they don’t hold grudges. They make you laugh when you need a good laugh and never judge you for being lazy or slobby or even smelly or clingy.
But beyond all their attributes, there are really two reasons that I can’t imagine my life without dogs.
The first reason is that living with dogs makes me feel grounded in the rhythms and simplicity of nature. It is as if I have somehow began to recover a more natural way of being and a side of human psychology that we so often seem determined to pave over. It’s a side that functions best within the rhythm of daily rituals, exercising the body and mind, living actively and purposefully everyday. And it’s unpretentious. A dog is just a dog. It doesn’t want to be a human. This is not a matter of hierarchy–I’m pretty sure that dogs don’t think that humans are better than them. It’s about understanding one’s place in the world and being comfortable in one’s own skin. What a way to live that would be! Peaceful. If you’ve ever been around a stable, well-balanced dog, peaceful is the only word to describe it. It’s calming. And after a while, if you’re lucky, you begin to see the world from their perspective and see the beauty in a way of living in which time is measured by the sun rather than by clocks, playing is a part of every day, and life is really just about being. It’s a natural way of life, one that most of us have somehow forgotten, lost in the wake of adulthood, obligations and ambitions.
The other reason I feel the need to have dogs in my life is that when you’re single and you have a dog, you never feel completely lonely. Another living thing depends on you, is present in your life. Sure, the conversation is a little slim, and dogs are certainly not a replacement for human companionship, but it makes a difference to have them around. I’ve read somewhere (exactly where escapes me) that women need to nurture something and that some express this through a care of plants and/or animals if they don’t have a family to care for. I don’t think that all women have this need, and I am certain that some men need to nurture as well. I am not a woman whose heart’s desire has always centered on motherhood–as a child, I always assumed I would be a mother someday, and if I marry someday perhaps I will–but I do need to be nurturing.
Spur fulfills that part of me by letting me take care of her. There’s a part of my soul that felt empty before she was part of my life, and would feel empty again if she was no longer here with me. I don’t expect most folks to understand my relationship with Spur. It’s not like a parent and child. At least, I assume that’s true; I can only guess at that. Either way, I don’t think of her as my child. But she’s much more special and important to me than “just a dog.” In a sense, I consider her an anam cara–a friend of my soul.
And that is more precious than diamonds.