Paw-Prints On Our Hearts
By Stephen Doherty
“Once you have had a wonderful dog,
a life without one, is a life diminished.”
His name was Winston. On a whim, I had picked him up as a puppy in 1985. He quickly captured my heart and became my closest friend and confidant for the next decade. Golden Retrievers, by their very natures, have an inbred sweetness and infinite capacity for unconditional love and loyalty. Winston was no exception. He dispensed affection as effortlessly as he breathed. It’s been said that it’s impossible to feel depression and gratitude simultaneously. I would also argue that it’s impossible not to smile when greeted by a dog that has spent the day missing you and has been excitedly making plans for your arrival!
Amazingly, but not surprisingly, “canine therapy” is an expanding field of psychological treatment for victims of trauma. Lives once thought shattered by the cruelty of circumstance or fate, are being rescued and repaired through loving paws, wagging tails, and endless face-licks, courtesy of enthusiastic canine volunteers! How often do we need to be reminded of the miraculous healing power of unconditional love? How often have we seen science trumped by the healing power of a rescued soul? How many terminal illnesses have, at their core, an element of loneliness and despair? It’s been said that there are no dogs in heaven. I would simply remark, “If it’s called Heaven–how could it possibly NOT have dogs?”
My daughter is an unabashed zealot and hopeless apologist for the canine hordes. Like a pastor, she sees few sinners in her flock of furry friends. I live in a high-rise apartment complex in Denver that, in a recent sop to millenials, turned my building into a furry, United Nations of tail wagging and wet kisses. Dogs outnumber humans three-to-one and clearly not every tenant is an avid praticioner of the plastic bag disposal process. That said, my annoyance quickly melted into a grudging co-existence. In a few months of daughterly persuasion and influence–I became a staunch canine-rights supporter. Let’s face it, a world (or apartment) full of furry friends is simply a more hospitable and joyful place. At the end of the day-why wouldn’t you want as many furry neighbors as possible? Truth be told, the resident pooches are far better company than many of the tenants.
Terminal illness forced me to have Winston put to sleep in 1995. I cried for an hour in my car as I reminisced on the countless times this sweetest of creatures had rescued me from hard times and despair. I have come to believe that, like children, dogs remind us that life still gives us plenty of reasons to smile and embrace each new day. Unlike humans, (or cats) I have never seen a dog frown or cop an attitude. Charles Krauthammer once wrote of dogs, “Some will protest that in a world with so much human suffering, it is something between eccentric and obscene to mourn a dog. I think not. After all, it is perfectly normal–indeed, deeply human–to be moved when nature presents us with a vision of great beauty. Should we not also be moved when it produces a vision–a creature–of the purest sweetness?”
Truer words have never been spoken…
“Dogs are not our whole life,
but they make our lives whole.” –Roger Caras