I have been lucky to be owned at key points in my life by some very engaging dogs. Jingles the Bouvier, my junkyard dog from years ago, believed her only role was to protect me every minute of the day. Mr. Chips was my childhood companion from the age of 5 until I was 19. There have been others, too, but my Scottish Deerhound Lilly is truly one-of-a-kind.
Lilly is different. Scottish Deerhounds see themselves as far more than a mere servant or even a simple companion as one would expect between a man and his dog. Darling Lilly demands an equality – I’m not sure how – that requires give and take every single day and for some reason, I immediately succumb. Like our morning ritual, established by my dear Deerhound: she wakes me from the bedside whenever she is ready to begin the day by sticking her big snout in my face and licking my face or biting on my ear until I’m roused. And she is not to be denied. If I roll over, she growls and becomes even more petulant.
She’s not like other dogs, and I’m ok with that. In fact, I’m not sure why I find it so rewarding to be loved by, and have love for, a dog like Lilly. I wanted to begin this blog by reciting the many ways in which dog love is superior to romantic love between a man and a woman because I imagined it to be simpler, more basic, more rewarding. But the more I pondered that notion, the more I realized it is not in any way different – it is more of the same and possibly even more demanding on the human than a relationship of intellectual and emotional equals.
With Lilly, I embrace my servitude because it enhances my very core.
Since I was a boy, dogs have been my companions, my confidants, my best friends. In the dark of night, if I felt alone, I had only to reach beside me and feel the soft, warm body of my four-footed sidekick. I ran in the grass as a little boy, as an older boy, as an adolescent, dog at my side. It didn’t matter the day or the hour or the reason or the emotion. With a dog beside me, I could be myself without question – silly, strange, wild, and I was loved.
If you’ve never had a pet, you may not understand this complete and total immersion. And really, if you’ve had a pet but not a dog, you still may not relate fully. There are people who think they love you unconditionally but they will still speak their minds and let you know when synchronicity is lost. They will have complicated emotions of their own and you will care deeply but sometimes, the stars misalign when you need someone desperately and there is no one person to attend to you because they are wrapped up in their own needs and musings. It’s never that way with a dog.
It’s cliché, I know, to describe the way a dog awaits your return at the end of a long day. What is original is the way you anticipate that reunion, too. I can have days full of meetings or days of quiet contemplation or days tramping through my seven stores, speaking with customers, rearranging shelves, attending to the details of the meat counter.
Or I can spend a day at sea with total and utter abandon and be almost 100% happy, with someone I love at my side or with no one at all and still, I know that before long, I will return to familiar surroundings and there will be a soft, innocent creature so happy to see me, as if each time is the first time.
It’s not a new idea that a person should love another not for what they’ll get in return. There are a mighty few with whom I can do that. But a dog, a dog loves its owner completely because its entire being propels it to. And that total love, that innocent adoration, that utter devotion, well, it inspires the same overwhelming appreciation from my end.
I have two dogs today – Lilly, my 8-year-old Deerhound and Al, my 6-year-old Doberman. They each are singularities and decidedly dissimilar. I love them both; they are the children who will never leave home to build lives of their own.
I celebrate independence and ambition in my sons, but I covet my dogs’ continual devotion as a gift, the way they revel in my quirks and moods – when I am grumpy or snarky or fragile and want no other person to see, it is with dear Lilly and not-quite-ferocious Al that I maintain no façade, hide no emotion. My words are never misinterpreted and my playing is not misunderstood. It’s pure, simple love.
Every morning, I walk the quiet streets with Lilly prancing beside me. When she tires, soon after we leave the house, I take her back to rest, and that is how she spends most hours of her days. Then, Al and I head out for a more vigorous walk. Al has energy and emotion and always we meet other breeds along our trails and there is conversation and opposition.
We see deer and even coyotes on the edge of the wood, we remark on the changing nature of the trees. We wave hello to other owners and we marvel at the details of our surroundings.
And when Al has tired, and I am invigorated, we return home to start the formal part of the day. I leave my dogs and go into the world and try to accomplish. I make connections, I make deals, I make a difference if I can and always, I return to the sanctity of these two creatures at the end of my journeys, short and long, and they are a comfort.
When I look into Lilly’s eyes, I see a wisdom that comes from time. It’s no surprise that most written words about Deerhounds over the past five centuries came in the form of praiseful poetry, for these creatures have a silent valor. No matter that my Deerhound is more comfortable asleep on my bed than she is running down the Red Stag of ancient Gaelic legend. I don’t pretend that my dogs will protect me; it is their love that offers a protection I can carry with me.
The love of a dog returns a man to a state of courageous innocence known only by the very young. The love of a parent for his child imbues the child with confidence and courage because he is loved so completely and without question or rule. He goes into the world with the feeling that everything will be all right because he comes from a foundation of total love. As we grow older, we lose that seminal connection – we shed it on purpose as we attempt to conquer our own strengths. A good dog can bring it all back.
Many times in love, you feel as though you’re putting in with a shovel and taking out with a spoon. In the morning, I look forward to walking up a great hill – raising my heart rate, invigorating the flow of blood and at the end, I know innately how alive I am. Some days, Lilly slows to such a crawl, veritably dragging her feet until she refuses another step. I know I must turn my back on my great hill and carry my Deerhound back to let her off the leash and collapse on the bed as she wishes. If Lilly doesn’t enjoy it, I certainly won’t.
I don’t lament this turn of fortune. I can always walk the hill. And no doubt, Al will be there with head high and tail wagging at squirrels and deer so that my challenge and my love can exist in the same space. And we are all happy.
Everyone has something that gets him through the day. My constant is my dogs. They are my North Star, my beacons, my comfort, and I am a lucky, lucky man.