“Gestures are all that I have.” — Enzo, The Art of Racing in the Rain
Other than my wife, the person who knows me best is not a person at all.
She can breathe, but she can’t speak. She can’t read or write. Can’t run a remote. Can’t drive. Can’t offer advice.
Still, she’s one of the best listeners and least judgmental beings I know, even though—given all she hears—she couldn’t be faulted for calling me on my bullshit.
I spend more time with her than I do anyone. She’s part shadow, part mime, part dichotomy. If I start to get up from my office chair, she’ll bounce right out of whatever dream she might be having—even one where she’s chasing rabbits and butterflies—and follow right along, ever curious and expectant. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why she finds my life so interesting.
She is Lucy, a six-pound, Yorkie-Shih Tzu, the world’s most perfect dog and one of my best friends.
I know how that sounds—one of my best friends… But it’s true.
No, I’m not putting her on the same level as my other best friends, people best friends, yet if this definition (below) holds merit, then Lucy justifiably falls into that category:
“A best friend is someone you can trust. Someone you miss and think about more often than others. They’re someone who cares about you and won’t talk about you behind your back. They will always be there for you when you need them most.” — Victoria Otto
We can debate friend taxonomies all we want, but I do know that it’s difficult to find someone who will love you as a much as a dog. Someone who’ll love you unequivocally. Unconditionally. Fiercely.
For some of us, pets are really more than pets. For some of us, even the label pet is an inadequate and inarticulate descriptor. It teeters on indifference and oblivious generality. It’d be like calling your son an offspring, your spouse an associate. (However, for lack of a better expression, I’ll stick with pets for the rest of this piece.)
People without pets often think those of us with them are nutty, starved for affection, likely barren, or socially inept. They may be partially correct.
I don’t dress Lucy up in outfits. I don’t let her eat off my plate. She doesn’t sleep with us. And while I love her to death, I don’t love her more than my wife, children, family and best people friends. I don’t treat her like she’s human, nor do I believe she’s human, though when she first arrived I admit I did vacillate a bit.
One afternoon, when Lucy was a pup, merely eight weeks old, she jumped from my nephew’s grip, landed quite a ways below, and shattered her paw in five places. It was horrible and tragic. After surgery to fix her foot, the vet sent me an email that began with this: Lucy was very brave today.
That caught me off guard. Lucy brave? At six weeks? Can dogs even be brave? After all, it’s not like she had a choice: I’d taken her to the vet for the operation without her permission.
But, yes, the vet said, Lucy was brave. She trembled, but otherwise stayed still during the incisions, bone re-settings and stitching. She didn’t yelp or whimper. She knew what needed to be done, and got on with it.
Really? Well, okay. Sure. You’re a vet, and a good one, so I’ll take you at your word. …My soon-to-be best friend was brave.
I frequently talk about how much time I spend in solitude. I suppose it sounds whiny, as if I’m complaining, and while that might be the case to a degree, it’s nevertheless true. What makes being alone infinitely more bearable is having Lucy in my life. (At this moment, she’s curled up like a furry comma inches from my left foot.)
We have our own means of communicating—through gestures, eye movements, sounds we’ve developed as a kind of special Len-Lucy code. She’s not human, but sometimes it seems as if she is.
Every night when I carry Lucy to bed and put her in her crate I say, “Sweet dreams, Lucy. No one loves you more than I do.” Silly right? But one evening not too long ago, I forgot to say this and she clawed the crate door, something she’s never done. Coincidence? Maybe, or maybe not. Maybe she needed to hear me say it—that no one loves her more than I do.
To my way of thinking, pets/animals help us bring out our humanity because they exemplify and demonstrate humanity. I realize what a bold claim that is, and I understand you likely could be questioning my sanity about now, but let’s take a gander at the dictionary’s definition of humanity.
/(h) yoo mandede
- The human race; human beings collectively
- Humanness; benevolence
“He praised them for their standards of humanity.”
Synonyms: compassion, brotherly love, fellow feeling, humanness, kindness, kind-heartedness, consideration, understanding, sympathy, tolerance, goodness, gentleness, mercifulness, benevolence, tenderness
Those synonyms/qualities sound almost idealistic or utopian, especially in light of some behaviors we regularly see today. Yet they’re behaviors almost always indicative of animals/pets. Pets aren’t human, but they can remind us what humanity looks like.
“I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person.” — Bill Murray
I’m not advocating the re-classification of pets as human, nor am I necessarily arguing that they should be treated precisely how we treat people. I’m just saying pets can make most any day better. Sometimes they can even make us better people.
One of my best friends has two cats, Juliette and Skye, that she can’t live without. Both are blind. Skye literally has no eyes and Juliette has a solitary, defunct one. Completely blind and still they are enormously loved, while unabashedly returning that love in kind.
I have another friend whose Bestie is a horse name Levi. Levi has accidentally thrown her, stepped on her foot and much more, but she still loves Levi like no other. He’s a beauty and she’d be pretty lost without him.
As I would without Lucy.
Maybe you have an example like these, or maybe you don’t. But for some of us, we can take the quote below, remove the word music and insert our pet’s name, and it makes all the sense in the world:
“Life without music is no life at all.” — Nietzsche