calm, serenity, quiet, rest
a part of something; a fraction of the whole
Pets are a personal and sometimes divisive subject. Are you a ‘cat lover’, ‘a dog person’, do you have any preference or none? Do you care?
Do you care?
I’ve sidestepped the term ‘owner’ because in my view ‘having’ a pet should be an issue of care, not possession. But who’s caring for whom? I’ve always had pets in my life one way or another, and they’ve always played a part in helping me ‘keep it together’. In particular, my dogs over the years have listened to my troubles, helped with language practice, pointed out my failings once or twice (especially when I’ve not been paying them enough attention), reminded me of deadlines (usually meal times to be fair), motivated me to exercise, even taught me about parenting. They’ve reminded me in large part of what it means to be human: caring.
In the work-at-home day, the presence of my dog has offered sanctuary as well as a return to reality. Peace when all around me there’s noise. A reason to leave the desk and computer, stretch my aching joints and encourage her to stretch her own. I’ve valued the chance to spend time in a home-office setting, and I’m grateful that my work has allowed me to do this and – to some extent riding the pandemic storm. Not unscathed but one of the survivors. And that survival has, in part, been thanks to my dog.
‘Love me, love my dog’.
I don’t compromise on that one rule. It may not win me all the friends in the world but hey, a dog is generally a good judge of character, and who am I to argue? Friends listen to you, occasionally depend on you, they let you know when things aren’t right and offer support when you need it. It may not be a universal perspective, but in my world dogs are, indeed, Man’s Best Friend.
Walking a dog is a social experience. It can be surreal, for sure, observing the traditional greeting of ‘modern’ dog walkers: the waving of a small perfumed bag of excrement at each other. But it is at its heart a social experience. It’s not so much a walk as a bonding exercise between man (or woman) and dog, and between dog walkers you see on the route and routine you follow. Concern is shown if you’re not seen for a while, interest in your and your dog’s health, welfare and happiness.
Dog walking’s proved to be a fruitful way of making friends and meeting interesting people, people with whom you have something in common – rather like meeting at the school gates but with the added value of exercise thrown in. It’s true that too often you know each other more by the name of the dog they’re with, but these encounters still help you feel part of something. Call it community or camaraderie, it’s again part of being human.
So this week’s been tough. For the past fourteen years I’ve shared a piece of my life with my canine companion, my own best friend, and she’s left us. I say ‘us’ because, of course, I don’t have a monopoly on the grief of losing a loved one when they’re part of the family, as surely she was. And this year, grief has been something too many people have had to contend with unexpectedly at a human level, not ‘only’ the loss of a pet. We’ve been luckier than many in that respect at least. But it still hurts, and as life carries on, as ‘normal service’ resumes in the course of every working day there’s still a piece of the jigsaw missing.
She’ll be missed by friends used to seeing her on parks and paths that until last week were still our regular haunts, remembered by people who met her in passing years ago but who recognised what made her special. As a human being, what more could you ask than to be remembered with affection and to have achieved something in your life, however long or short? Dogs, and indeed other pets whose presence touches us deeply, teach us more about being human than you might imagine.
My Best Friend did, and I’m grateful for the experience. All good things come to a end. She’s gone from being a huge piece of my life to now being at peace.