People, so many people these days, seem on the verge of losing it. With our hearts and minds stretched to breaking by worry, grief, and COVID-19 restrictions, many of us need help staying on track.
If we’re lucky, a dog – or two – will come to the rescue.
Today, on our early-morning walk, Bo, Jackie and I came upon a neighbour standing still in the middle of the sidewalk. She looked beyond distraught, on the verge of tears.
“How are you?” I asked.
“Sad,” she said. “Christopher Plummer died.”
Maybe this actor’s death would have hit her hard any time. But in COVID time, alienated from our social connections, public personalities loom abnormally large.
Jackie and Bo have more in common with Lassie than with Christopher Plummer – but their comfort worked for my neighbour anyway. They snuggled in, gazed at her sad face, waggled their bodies. She ran her hands through their fur, and her grief gave way to smiles.
We three moved on, but around the next corner were blocked by yet another neighbour standing in our way, head bent over her phone, lost in some cloud. I tried to discreetly circle around her, but Jackie stopped, rushed to her, arched her back like a giant cat, and wove around the woman’s legs. (This is not usual behaviour for Jackie.)
The woman reached out and Jackie responded with her best love-sponge act. Even Bo, normally aloof, moved in for a greeting. “I’m going through stuff, and this is the first warm-blooded contact I’ve had in weeks,” said the woman, now happily hemmed in by two furry girls.
That COVID-19 has led to an explosive demand for “pandemic pets” has been widely reported. Dogs, at least some dogs, are naturally empathic. Most of the ones I’ve known embody a motto attributed to Plato: be kind, because everyone you meet is on a hard path. When I sometimes forget, and it’s often my dogs who remind me. Often animals are more ‘humane’ than humans. And, over a lifetime shared with dogs, I’ve learned to value their judgement.
They reminded me of this earlier this week, when we encountered an odd man approaching random passers-by with conversation about the weather – then launching conspiracy nonsense about COVID being a hoax and dark forces kidnapping people. “More people will die of suicide from isolation than from the virus,” he screamed as, lacking any coherent response to him, I quickly walked away.
Jackie and Bo, however, had a coherent response. They merely watched him with soft eyes, tails slowly wagging. These two never wag at strangers; they’re more likely to softly growl to alert me to any vague threat. But while I read danger from the shrieking man, the dogs read distress – and their tails beat out a message: ‘Be kind, because everyone you meet is on a hard path.’
How was your surfing day? Copyright Deborah Jones
Jackie and Bo on a bench. Copyright Deborah Jones