by Barry Edelson

The Dog Ate My Heart

The dog ate the stuffing out of a toy animal a few weeks ago and became quite ill. Sick to her stomach and wobbly on her feet from the medication the vet gave her, she had to be carried up a long flight of stairs and set down on her bed. This is no simple task any more: she's more than a year old now and weighs at least 50 pounds.

As I gently lifted her in my arms, I was suddenly overcome by a feeling that could only be described as love. While my wife has had many dogs in her life, Delia is the first dog I ever owned, and this deep affection still catches me by surprise. But it's undeniable. I'm in love with her, and have been since the day a year ago when we brought her home from the shelter.

Having such strong feelings for a sweet, dumb animal has made me keenly aware of the yawning gap between emotion and reason. I know that there are many objective, abstract reasons why we love our pets, and dogs in particular. Delia I know that they are warm-blooded mammals whose behavior often resembles that of a human child, and arouse in us the need and desire to shelter and protect them. I know that dogs, though descended from wolves, are not natural animals in the usual sense because they have been bred especially to be our loyal and loving companions. I know that dogs sometimes give affection even where none is returned, and stay true even to owners who abuse them. I know that Delia probably would have been just as loyal and loving to anyone else who might have adopted her, if they only had arrived at the shelter a few hours or a few days before we did. And I know that even though she makes a joyous noise very much like purring every time we return to the house, and jumps on us with wet kisses even if we've only been gone a few minutes, she is incapable of love in the strictly human sense of the word.

All of this is eminently reasonable, but it doesn't really explain a thing. How exactly can any of these well-argued observations describe what love is? We can't seem to comprehend or articulate it any better than the dog can. It's almost embarrassing to say it, but we know what love is because we just know how we feel. There are some things we simply can't prove and will never know with certainty, but imagine how harrowing and hollow our lives would be if we didn't allow ourselves to indulge them anyway. For most of us, love tops the list.

In a few days the dog got better, and behaved as though nothing had happened at all. She can't remember a thing from yesterday, yet she remembers my wife and me even after a long absence. Maybe that's love and maybe it isn't, but every dog owner on the planet will swear it is.

October 26, 2007

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