Our daughter, Megan, came home for a visit recently and brought Nika, the dog she adopted when Nika was 6 weeks old. Nika lived with us for about a year and became quite attached to our golden retriever, Noah, who is a couple of years older that she is. They became inseparable. They played together, ate together, slept curled up next to each other, chased Frisbes together. Nika became the sister Noah didn’t have. At the dog park, Noah often defended Nika against other larger dogs.
Nika loves everyone – human or animal, she’s your friend. And she had a lot of friends at our dog park. There was Thunder, a 12-year-old grumpy German shepherd mix who cuddled with her, barked at her when she was out of line, licked her when needed loving. There was Cody the trickster huskie, who chased off bigger dogs when she was a puppy and always made sure she had an ally. But Noah is definitely her bro and her protector and Megan is certainly her human.
During the time that Megan worked at her internship at Disney, we would get together once a month or so and Nika would go nuts when she saw Megan and would seem sort of sad and depressed once we all separated again. One night here at the house, Nika cornered a possum in our backyard and the possum was as freaked out as Nika – hissing, baring its teeth. Noah came to Nika’s rescue and the possum – wisely – took off.
In June, Megan’s internship at Disney ended and Nika moved to Orlando with her. During these past months, we’ve gotten together fairly regularly. Nika and Noah are so overjoyed to see each other that at one reunion, Nika leaped out the passenger window of Megan’s car just to get to Noah. During their most recent reunion, they headed to the dog park together and Nika reconnected with her buddies there, then she and Noah headed out into the park on their own, commiserating, exploring, connected at the heart.
While they were visiting, I woke in the middle of the night and saw Nika and Noah cuddled together on the quilt where he usually sleeps alone. All was well. I instantly fell back asleep. They looked like this, but on a quilt:
Dogs remember. They form bonds as intricate and intimate as those among humans. Their emotions are as real to them as our emotions are to us. Yes, I’ve been accused before of anthropomorphizing, but my response to those critics is that there’s no such thing. All animals feel and with dogs, perhaps because of their long history with humans, it’s easier to recognize these emotional connections, these memories.
There’s something here for us humans to keep in mind: if we treated each other as Nika and Noah treat each other, wouldn’t the world be a better place? We would have each other’s backs, we would remember the early love and the forever love and would give each other space to explore the world independently. We would honor each other’s differences and honor the myriad ways we are the same. We would honor the fact that we have come together in the same space and time. We would grasp the spiritual underpinnings.
I’m telling you, my next political vote will be for an individual who loves and understands dogs. It won’t be Mitt Romney, who put his dog Shamus on a roof rack during a trip to Canada. Really? A roof rack?? In the U.S, alone, there are nearly 80 million dog owners. Why would a single one of them vote for Romney? If a man can’t treat his dog right, what makes you think he would do right by you?
Years ago, one of the things my dad advised was pretty simple and straightforward, as I look at it in hindsight: You want a quick way to see who someone else actually is? Look at how they treat their family – and their pets. And then look at how they act when money is the bottom line. Those things will tell you what you need to know about that person.
I am buoyed at the dog park. Yeah, I know how that sounds. But it happens to be true. Dogs are genuine,we humans are often anything but. We’re trying, though. We’re learning, we’re evolving. Really, we are.