Walking to work this morning I stopped to pat a Labrador puppy tied up outside the primary school. As I
bent down to him he lifted his head to me in the characteristic display of affection common to most dogs, and to Labradors in particular. I ruffled his ears as he turned his head in my hand, his eyes shining with simple joy and good nature. He was a handsome little dog and once more as I stood up I felt touched by the beauty of these animals. Their beauty is in their nature, open, forgiving, affectionate, generous. They delight in our delight in a way that few of us supposedly more advanced species ever do for others.
I am more aware of this than ever now that I have Rigby at home. He is a lovely dog. He is rambunctious and affectionate, exuberant and tender, playful and demonstrative. Everyone who meets him loves him, and living in such close proximity to him I have been reminded of their beautiful nature.
Every night as I return home from work Rigby is waiting by the gate. As soon as he hears me he sticks his snout in the gap between the gate and the ground as if to inhale my presence. He gallops around to the back door and waits impatiently as I walk through the house to let him in. Without fail then he will jump up to greet me as if I have returned from a long trip, before he’ll thunder up the hallway to the front door – just on the off chance I’ve left it open.
In the evening he’ll often jump up onto the couch beside me to nestle with his head in my lap. In truth I’m a little worried that he has become too much of a lap dog, though it is very endearing. Nothing gives him greater pleasure than being close to his master. He’ll look up at with his pale brown/yellow eyes with fascination. Often he’ll come over and just rest his head on my leg looking up at me. More often than not he’ll follow me from room to room. There are times I wish he was more independent, but then I remember that he is a pack animal and I am the pack leader.
The other day I was out when I saw ahead of me a woman walking her golden lab. The lab was old and walked in that stiff-legged waddle that often comes with old age. Often I’ll see a dog trail it’s master and I can’t help but wonder how such an exuberant, go-getting beast ever becomes this. I feel great affection for the dogs then, and for their masters too as if I understand their bond. There is a poignancy to the feeling though in seeing the decline so clearly. Is it sad to see that gambolling puppy decline into a shambling, rheumy eyed old fella? No doubt it is, but while the dog might feel the years constraining it the affection is undiminished. Its world remains the family it lives within, its pleasure is sharing their lives. The real sadness is with us who love them.
It seems wrong that there is such a disparity in our respective life expectancy. One of the reasons I held off on getting a dog for so many years was the recollection of the deep pain I remembered from when our childhood dog died. I knew this was inevitable, that we are on different timetables and that this would happen again. I did not want to experience that again.
Ultimately I chose to enjoy the years of pleasure a beautiful dog will give you rather than dwell on that moment of death. Still it is there and I can’t help but feeling emotional considering it. This is deepened by the unquestioning faith and love they shower you with, and it seems something of a betrayal to go on when they will perish. This is the incongruity of the relationship. I have had Rigby from a puppy, will watch as he grows and matures and then grows old, while I merely travel a few more years through middle age.
For him it’s all pleasure and no regrets. His life is all joy. And it is for me too, it’s just that there is a shadow upon it. There needn’t be really. It’s self-pity I feel, when I should remember that for him every moment is a wonder and to live like this a privilege better than anything.