On Why I Love My Dogs

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.

IMG00076Lilly 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.

n585114007_1818844_6578I 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.


On Why I Love My Dogs — 25 Comments

  1. Jim,

    As I often review your blog, a smile came upon me as I saw how you expressed your love for your dogs. Throughout my life, my dogs have been the support I’ve needed that no human could fill. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my love for my dogs.

    I also want you to know, as a visitor of the 14 & Haggerty Store, I’m always welcomed and often your staff asks my family if I’m ok, when they haven’t seen me in a while. Those special people and concern for others marks Hiller’s as a place to go to, they make you feel important, part of the family.

    Thank you.

  2. “On Why I Love My Dogs”

    This was truly enjoyable to read !! I, too, have a very special dog. She is my “best bud”. She has been a true joy in our family’s life and it’s so nice to know that others have that special bond with their dogs.

  3. For every hour you hold a sleeping dog, you get five hours more in your life. I saw a picture of William Wegman in a newspaper article watching his two Weimaraners sleep beside him, all three stretched out on a sofa, and I knew I liked him before I ever saw one of his photographs. My favorite? They’ll hold a pose for him forever, because they love him with determination. After two marriages where I mistakenly believed I could MAKE someone happy, I have Fiona, my soulmate, and Fergus, my best friend. Both are rescued whippets, a breed known for wanting to get along and not make demands. I want Fiona to be human, I don’t deny it. I treat my dogs like equals. I now have my own practice where I can bring them to the clinic. Patients like to meet them. It’s a nice life. Every morning Fiona teaches me about the joy of another day, and the depth possible in love. Anybody arrogant enough to think only humans have a soul has too small a heart themselves. If there’s a heaven, it has dog angels or else I don’t want to be there. I want all my dogs to meet me in that light at the end of a tunnel to the other side.

  4. Glad to see you have been among the lucky few of us that have known the love of a sighthound Lily. When people comment that hounds are stupid,,,, they will never know and are too blind to see…

  5. What a wonderful tribute to your friends. I’ve had 4-legged pets of one kind or another since I was a child and I can’t imagine my life without them. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of one or more of my departed friends and give extra hugs or have a serious conversation with one of my current furry children. The pictures were great too! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading about your relationship with your dogs. You so eloquently put into words what so many of us feel and think regarding our beloved pets. I nodded in complete understanding to what you wrote. Thank you for making my day!

  7. Thank you Jim, for enriching our day with the story of your Deerhound, sighthound! I can relate since
    i’ve been rescuing Greyhounds from the tracks for 12 years form their dismal life and certain death when they no longer win.. yes, literally running for their lives. When I see your words they give me hope that more people will see the special sighthound with those long legs and nobal face as a true companion. My greyhound Anngi is very like your girl Lilly. Maybe they can be friends!

  8. Thank you for your beautiful essay. My Golden Retriever, Honey,9, is even more precious to me than my last Golden Retriever, Sandy;yet I would never have thought it possible. It is comforting to know from you that the love never dies and is out there, waiting, waiting. When we chose her among her puppy siblings, we were assured that Honey was NOT he needy one but I am glad they were wrong, because I need her love as much as she needs mine. So when Honey is called to be with the Lord, as was Sandy, I will remember you and your words and borrow on your faith for ever-better dog-loving days ahead.

  9. Thank you for putting into words how precious the relationship with a dog can be. I have friends who think I am nuts because of my love for my dogs but they are not dog people.

  10. I grew up in a family who could much more easily live without electricity than without dogs. Your blog was indeed a most eloquent expression of the relationship so many of us have with dogs. I have shared this with everyone I know who has dogs, has had dogs, wants to have a dog. A piece worthy of A. P. Terhune or Thurber. Thanks for the wonderful read.

  11. I grew up in a family who could much more easily live without electricity than without dogs. Your blog was indeed a most eloquent expression of the relationship so many of us have with dogs. I have shared this with everyone I know who has dogs, has had dogs, wants to have a dog. A piece worthy of A. P. Terhune or Thurber. Thanks for the wonderful read and the wonderful store (Ann Arbor).

  12. Unfortunately, I have not had a dog as a companion for many years since my son got out of graduate school, married, and along came the grandkids. I would love to have another dog though but feel it would be unfair to him/her if I did because it would be in the house all day and I work erratic hours and usually am not home on a timely basis. I remember Teddy, our sheep collie. He would run down the long drive to the road when I got home on the school bus to greet me and nudge me and wag his tail and just be so happy to see me as I was to see him. When I came home one day, Teddy was not at the end of the drive, I asked mom after the long walk alone. She said he was sick, in the garage, and I should not go in there. Well, of couse I did, and my darling Teddy had died of something or other. Oh my gosh, my best bud a girl could have to run through the fields with, to play with, to roll in the grass with, was gone. My dad and I buried Teddy in the back acres over the creek and we both had so many tears. Even as I write this decades later I am tearing up. As one of you wrote above, when you have a pet, he becomes family to you, no matter how large your human family might be. And if you have never had a pet, then you simply have missed out and have no understanding of what we speak of here. Thanks, Jim, for the happy memories.

  13. This was a wonderful testament to, what I believe, is the greatest species on earth! Life without a dog beside you has so much less meaning!

  14. Jim,
    I am now reassured that my sweet daughter is well cared for by a loving and soulful man, raised by someone who appreciates the important things in life. Hope all is well with you and Marge – and of course, Lily and Al. Fond regards,
    Valerie – and Lucy

  15. Thank you for your article about your faithful furry companions, Lilly and Al. You’ve put into words what so many of us feel about our furry kids. I too, have had dogs around me all of my life and each one has/had their own unique personality. Each one has been special to me in their own way…by my side, through happy times, and sad times. They’ve understood when no ‘human’ seemed to understand me. Now that I’m into the second part of my life I find that my Sophie keeps me going every day. They need me just as much as I need them in my life. I can’t think of a day that I would not have a warm fuzzy body near me.
    Jim, thanks for your warm thoughts!

  16. So often as I drive in to work, I hear your ads on the radio and wish you had a store on the east side! Today I went to your website and happened upon your story about Lily and Al. I, too, walk my beloved dog, a golden retriever named Flash, each morning before the sun comes up. She is my best friend, my connection to that calm, still voice in all living things and one of the few things that will always make me smile. Her love is palpable and her appreciation for our little jaunt is completely evident. Thank you for that wonderful story. You made me smile!

  17. Jim: It is so nice to see the enjoyment you receive from your Lily and Al; We have 3 dogs we have rescued over the years Edna 16 year Basset Hound, Lady 2 year old Mutt from Detroit we rescued out of a basement and Zecco 6 pound little white dog found out in the woods in Algonac . These 3 dogs bring joy, happiness, and are a big part of the Family.

  18. Absolutely beautiful. Your piece brought tears to my eyes. My husband and I (both of us in our 40’s) got our first dog together a year ago–a beautiful English Cream Golden Retriever. We are both serious dog lovers, yet neither of us have had dogs in our homes since we were children. We love our sweet Chester even more than we ever thought possible. He brings incredible joy to an already wonderful marriage.
    Enjoy your dogs, your holiday, your life.

  19. What brought me to your blog was your store and the review of Hometown Discount Program.
    Now that I have read the most recent blog that directed me to your post about Lilly and Al, I dare say; I am an EVEN bigger fan of YOU than your amazing Union Lake Road store.
    Those of us that have made a connection with a dog, know MOST of what you are saying.
    To have a dog is one thing, to live with a dog(s) is another. No words can describe the pure sense of companionship and uncomplicated joy, a run in the woods with an unleashed dog can produce.
    From my selfish perspective, it is the one of a very few things in my life, that has brought me closer to a sense that I am connected to something greater.
    How I miss my best buddy Duke, the runs everyday for 9 years. The fun of coming home, knowing his 100lbs of fuzzy demands were waiting for me.
    I too was the bizarre entrepreneur that wore fur strands on his suit at meetings (with pride). I even had the “fur mobile”, which my friends refused to drive in.
    In closing I state, “Viva La Lilly en Al!”

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