My son returned from a few days with friends on the Oregon coast--aquarium, whale watching, beer and beach. One of the first things he said after walking into the house was, "I missed the dogs." Although he has been living here only a couple of months since college finished, he stepped so immediately into Life with Dogs that being without them for only four days felt strange.
This morning a visiting friend said, "I miss my dog." Her dog died over a year ago and she doesn't plan to get another until after retirement in a couple of years.
This evening I stood on the deck watching Miro begin his bedtime tuckbuttrun dash around the yard while Alanis found herself a quiet, comfortable place in the dirt; and I wondered about the importance of their presence. It has nothing to do with "unconditional love," a phrase so over-used as to be meaningless. Whether dogs even feel love, as we know it, is not a question I concern myself about. What they give is not as important as what they are.
A dog is a warm presence, a touchable, huggable, glowing presence, the heart of what makes a home. The barf stains on the carpet, the chewed-up wainscotting (that was yesterday), the muddy prints or bits of leaf always on the floor, the streaks where they've rubbed on the sofa, my faint scars from being chewed on by generations of puppies, the dreaded toenail clipping sessions, the cloud of gas that sends me running from the room when I'm trying to sit and read.... Life would be flat without these things.
And when we're not experiencing such excitement, when the dog is just hanging out? I know he's a blessing that is granted to me for only a short time; but he knows unconditional happiness--perfect, immediate happiness of the kind we experience only in flashes before our brains start churning distractions and worries in their human way.
"The dog," I think. "The dog is with me." That's the answer.