Today I’m writing a love letter to my favorite buddy. She won’t be able to read it, although she may have already figured out the meanings when I spell out W-A-L-K or C-O-O-K-I-E.
There is something both freeing and grounding in having a dog.
For one thing, they make a house a home, as my (her) veterinarian says.
I’m an unabashed, unapologetic dog person. Now, I’m not one of those who anthropomorphize this different species, or any other of the other nonhumans we share our lives with. I don’t kiss her in the mouth, she doesn’t sleep in our beds, and she isn’t allowed on the furniture. She’s not a person in a fur coat.
This is the thing about dogs, they like being dogs. They introduce themselves to each other in ways that would be highly inappropriate, if not incredibly illegal in humans. They urinate on their own feet and (trigger warning, this is gross), eat their own vomit. They wallow in noxious odors and eat out of the garbage. They don’t act like humans, even if you put clothes on them (why?) and carry them around in backpacks and purses, or push them in baby carriages. They still know they’re dogs. They don’t mind being the dog in the family, as long as they know they’re in the family.
Now that we’ve established how I see our canine companions, let me say why I think they’re just the greatest.
About 51 percent of the population navigate the world differently from the other 49. Women are taught at earlier (and earlier) ages to be aware of their surroundings, to rely on the buddy system for many, if not most of their encounters with the outside world. When you’re warned about going for an early morning, or late evening run alone, or walking to your car late at night, or even going out on blind dates without some kind of escape plan, well, it’s a wonder more women aren’t agoraphobic.
And this is where having a dog is freeing.
I’ve blessedly passed the age where I need to worry about being catcalled or given unwanted attention from strange men. Being an invisible older woman does have (a few) perks. But being a female still makes me vulnerable to those who perceive women as targets for assault.
That’s where my buddy frees me.
She’s a decent dog-sized dog, 45 pounds of chow chow mix protection. What she’s mixed with is anyone’s guess, but chow chows were allegedly bred to protect the emperors in China. As such, they tend to be protective of their charges and their territory. My ridiculous companion has made sure she keeps the yard free from slow-moving striped invaders that wander through in the early/late evening hours (she’s been skunked 14 times and counting), but she also makes sure that I can put my earbuds in and go on a nice long walk any time of the day or night while listening to whatever I want.
That makes sense to women who are taught to never listen to music or anything else when they are alone and walking or running. They must be fully aware of potential criminal invaders, and if victimized, still may have to answer the questions of why they chose to walk or run alone.
Now, I’m not saying that women should have to have a dog by their side in order to be able to move through the world unmolested. That would put the onus on the women, instead of the perpetrators. But since life isn’t fair, it’s nice to have a little backup — with teeth.
But dogs aren’t just our protectors. They also are there when we want to make friends. I’ve noted with some amusement, and some bemusement, the number of people, big and small, who will either address the dog directly (did they notice there’s a person on the other end of the leash?), or stop and ask to pet this bundle of fur. She’s even had people stop their cars and ask about her lineage. Yes, it appears my dog has been catcalled. Last week while waiting to cross the street, a man I would have sworn I had never seen before, came up and asked about my dog. He said he had seen me over the years walking all over my neighborhood. Who knew?
What’s freeing about having a dog is that one can be approachable, but at the proper respectful distance. I’ve made friends because of my dog, and my dog has made friends too.
That part of being grounded is pretty cool too.
Because sometimes the world just doesn’t make sense.
There’s too much violence, chaos, hatred and uncertainty in the world. But if I need to take a walk to clear my head and shake myself out of a depression, a dog who is willing to journey with me will pull me out of my funk every single time. Throw in a podcast of Wait, wait, don’t tell me, or Fresh Air, and the world feels a little less unsafe.
I sleep better knowing that the descendant of China’s guards of the emperors is right downstairs, at the ready should a burglar (or skunk or opossum) get too close. I feel better coming home, knowing that someone will be glad to see me, especially if I immediately give her a C-O-O-K-I-E.
My dog is going on 11 now, although she has no idea that she’s allegedly an old dog. She will still walk a good five miles with me and come back and grab a toy for a few rounds of keep-away.
One thing I’ve seen on Facebook, or Twitter, or somewhere, is how terrible it is that science hasn’t found a way to extend a dog’s life beyond 10-15 years. I agree.
But for now, it’s us two older ladies, one who hasn’t yet started to gray, the other who isn’t shy about touching up her roots, beating back the vestiges of time, one mile at a time.
And all of us who love dogs (yes, even you owners who kiss your annoying, yappy little dogs in the mouth), know that our world is just a lot better, because our furry family members are in it.