The fur lining of leather gloves feels soft to the touch as I slip them off my hands after freeing the dogs from their prong collars. This morning I employed these tough leather puppies to hold their leashes, much as a wrangler handles the reins to control his horse.
My daughter and I have taken them on their daily rounds, along the Arizona canal that provides a wide and safe thoroughfare from which to spot others. She and I chat about her return to school, friends and family, and pizza.On the walk, Nina. one of the dogs, is eager to follow any scent. A pit bull/bird dog mix, she longs to run free after the pigeons and mallards on the canal bank. My knuckles jam together from her constant tug on the wraparound handle. Fortunately, we’re happily back home.I ponder the close bonds between human and canine, as I mull equally the tie with family. What is it that works?
After slurping water from the bowl Nina comes to the couch. She is a feminine canine, her body softer and more curvaceous than that of her bro-dog, Bruce, a lab-Dane mix. I stroke her fur. She has a short coat that feels like it was recently shampooed – clean, soft, with every hair loose to the touch. I run my hand forward up the back of her neck, hairs separating between my fingers.
My hand stops to cuddle behind her ears. She looks at me, trusting, her eyes the color of clear Danish amber flecked with bits of dark detritus from a Nordic beach. She appears both innocent and wild at once. I take a finger and trace the white-furred pencil-line up her nose, between her eyes and over one eyebrow. I return to the back of her ears, tracing the bumpy line of her cranium. Then I move to her throat and stroke the thicker white fuzz on her chest between the front legs. She stays immobile, relishing the moment. After awhile I go back to that sweet brindle face and stroke softly away from the tooth-line of her jowls across the gently curved cheeks toward her ears. Her eyes begin to close into a state of bliss I could only dream of. I don’t care if you go on forever, she must be saying.
I have two secrets to share. First is that having Nina, Bruce and our human daughter live with us, and by walking the dogs with her, I have a second chance for a really loving mother-daughter relationship. Her childhood was so difficult after our adopted son entered the family. Early in his teens he acquired the multiple diagnoses of depression, bipolar, PTSD, anxiety, and hypervigilance, These diagnoses, which he came by honestly, inflicted us all with his extreme attendant behaviors, including multiple suicide attempts. In addition, he was a juvenile delinquent and an out-of-wedlock father with an undocumented woman he didn’t like. He arrived with far too much emotional damage from his early childhood to repair. It wreaked havoc on the rest of us. We only began to recover after he was no longer in our lives.
Chatting about doggie discipline, boyfriends, coursework, trips to Savers or Buffalo Exchange, and occasional dips into deeper stuff, takes on a richer meaning. As the second shot at family bonding – a shot that may hit the mark - it is, for me, akin to Nina’s bliss.
Second, Nina is a quick study on how we humans should be. Perhaps, since she came to us as a puppy, she brought no emotional baggage. Since she is a dog, her emotional development seems less complicated than ours. In teaching Nina to sit and stay, I learn that she is bright. At my “Yes!” she snaps up a small treat, anticipating the next command. She likes doggie-school. And she loves getting straight “A”s. When I provide the early morning biscuit, I gain her trust. As I take her out for a walk I gain her appreciation. When I stroke her fur and say gentle nothings, I let her feel my love. And I let her love me back. In less than one year she has become a happy, healthy, loyal dog.
With humans it is more complex. But the lesson is the same. The more we understand them – who they really are -- and the more we show them our love, attend to their real and specific needs, and gently stroke their ‘fur’, the more we build love in our fellow beings—dog and daughter alike.