Friday, February 23, 2007

A Dog's Love

(In memory of Lady: March 30, 1996 - February 16, 2007)

Bob, my resident theologian, has been known to say, “If you want to know about God’s love, don’t look to human beings. Look to dogs.” We humans are far too flawed to ever really love each other the way a dog can and does love. We can catch a glimpse of it in young human children, who do come very close to loving in that pure and oh-so-trusting way, but then they grow up and go off to school, and they start to lose it.

Bob is also very adamant in his belief that human beings are not the be-all and end-all of God’s creation, that God loves all of creation, and that our responsibility is to help care for all of it. Of course, it’s very Darwinian of us to believe we’re superior, that we’re the most important. We search our religious texts for proof of this fact, like children desperately wanting to be their parents’ favorite. It’s all about survival of the fittest. We look out for number one, and then, when number one seems to be okay, we turn to protecting those who are just like us, members of our own species, first. That’s why some people who might be very sympathetic if your parent, sibling, spouse, or child died suddenly, will say to you when a beloved animal dies, “It was only a dog/cat/horse/rabbit.”

I’m not as familiar with other species as I am with the three who’ve been a major part of my life: humans, dogs, and cats. But if I were to rank just these three, I promise you humans would not come out on top. It’s no wonder to me we go searching through texts written by our own species to try to prove our own superiority. Experiencing the love, the selflessness, the will, the strength, and the courage of a dog (not to mention the ability to know the cheese drawer has just been opened in the fridge, even if she’s way out somewhere in the back yard) can make one feel so inferior.

I’m not so unrealistic as to think that dogs aren’t capable of being selfish or mean (witness Ian's and my posts on Henry). I know from firsthand experience they can be. But I also know that when a dog decides to love and to give its all to a human being, that love is the most precious and pure of loves. It’s the sort of unconditional love humans can only ever hope to receive from adult humans. It’s the sort of love that allows someone to yell at it for barking when it’s only trying to protect that someone and still come back to lick that someone’s hand. It’s the sort of love that allows someone to leave it lonely and scared for an entire day, and instead of being sulky and uncommunicative when that someone returns, leaps for joy, indicating that this is absolutely the best thing that’s happened all day. It’s the sort of love that truly would lay down its life for that someone, fighting a member of its own species to do so, if need be.

And that’s why I’m awed by its superiority. It’s not the least bit Darwinian. How many humans do you know would engage in deadly battle in order to save a member of another species? It humbles me, because, I for one, know I’m always looking out for me and mine first.

For eight years, Bob and I were blessed with this sort of love. There are those who have told us we gave her so much, this poor little dog who was afraid even to take a few steps in our house when we first got her, having never known a life outside the back yard and a crate in the basement of her first family’s home. We did give her a lot. And I know it’s a cliché to say she gave us so much more, but we know there were times when she showed these two clueless people, relatively new to marriage, how to love each other, how to accept each other with all our flaws. And when we just couldn’t see eye-to-eye? She was there to comfort both of us, as well as to soften our passionate tempers for her sake.

Our house may now echo with emptiness. We don’t hear the clicking of claws on the bare floors. We don’t hear the barking when the FedEx guy arrives to deliver packages. We don’t hear water being lapped up in the kitchen. But our hearts resound with an abundance of love, put there by this little creature during the brief period she allowed us to care for her, and what she put there for us will be there forever.


Heather said...

Truly, that was a beautiful post that made me cry. Thank you for your words.

Anonymous said...

So sorry about Lady. You've written a beautiful tribute to her. I'm sure she knew how much she was loved. A very lucky dog.

Anonymous said...

I am crying. Crying at work, honest to pete. This is such a wonderful post and you are completely right. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Emily Barton said...

Ms. Blossom and Court, sorry. I didn't mean to make people cry, but I guess that's what happens when one writes straight from the heart.

And thank you, Stef. Yes, she was lucky, and so were we.

Rebecca H. said...

Add my tears to those of your other readers. What a beautiful post Emily.

BikeProf said...

Damnit, Emily, here I am sobbing--sad dog stories always do this to me. You are right, though--the love that dogs are able to give you is truly, unconditionally pure. There is something about how a good dog's heart is so huge, so abundant, so giving that I feel small and mean in comparison. We can learn from dogs, but I fear we never will. A lovely tribute to a sweet girl.

Emily Barton said...

Why am I not the least bit surprised that all of you have such big hearts? And what an honor to Lady that you've all been a bit touched by her as well.

Feminine Feminist said...

I'm echoing these sentiments. Her mischievous spark and bark and her desire to herd her good sheep (you and Bob)will be greatly missed.... What a beautiful tribute.
Love to you,

Anne Camille said...

What a moving post. A lovely tribute to Lady, beautifully written. I agree with your resident theologian.