The world through my eyes

in which I am the dog whisperer

Our family had a dog while I was an adolescent. Her name was Joy. She was a German Shepherd mix that we rescued. I remember that I was in middle school when the opportunity to adopt her presented itself. I was vehemently against it. I made my case to the family: owning a dog is a huge responsibility, and I don’t have the time to do it because of my academics. You might be asking, why was I putting all that responsibility on myself? Because I knew, even as a 12 year old, that I would be the one to take the duty seriously, but I simply did not have the time. But I was outvoted, we got the dog, and no one had time for her. Honestly, it is still traumatic for me to think about it. I have one photo of Joy from the early 1990’s, and I can’t even really look at it because I get so sad.

Can we make up for our past sins (no matter if collective) in the present? I sometimes thought of that during the 11 years Maris was in our lives. I treated her with respect for life I would have for any person I knew. She was my priority – I rearranged my social life, my schedule, finances, etc. around her happiness and fulfillment as a canine. I worried about her exercise routine, about her food… and during our walks, I let her sniff as many things for as long as possible because I knew that it would keep her canine brain active. I aimed for a fulfilled life for Maris. And sometimes when I looked at Maris’s face, I saw Joy. They were similar in some ways… the black-tan-white combo, and the big, kind eyes that would see through to your soul. It wasn’t too often, but I thought of Joy from 2011 to 2022 and hoped that my love for Maris would somehow make up for the love that Joy did not receive.

My young experience with Joy changed the way I interact with dogs as an adult. When I see a dog, I feel an immediate affinity to it… and I like to think that most dogs recognize this, too. Most dogs look right back and me and stare. I am sure there is a scientific explanation for why dogs do this, but in my eyes, they are connecting with me. In my world, they look back at me because they recognize that I am their ally, that I am communicating my deep love for animals to them. “Yes, dawg, I see that you are a beautiful soul… I know, I know… I get you. I love you, too.” That’s the conversation that takes place in my head. And this happens with most dogs – perhaps not the German Shepherd police dog I saw in Philadelphia airport who was all business and didn’t respond to me at all.

You might be thinking that I’m crazy, but from a psychological standpoint I think that my strong connection to dogs stems from my early trauma with Joy. Joyful her life was not, and her name was cruel irony. But it didn’t matter to her perhaps that she didn’t live a joyful life – to the end, she remained all loving and giving because that is what dogs do. It is the closest thing to unconditional love I have found in this world.

Happy together