I think the biggest naysayers when it comes to pets believe that we merely project our human emotions and sentiments onto our pets. But the biggest advocates for the unconditional love we get from our pets know better. In watching the relationships between my dogs over the past few years, I’ve come to understand a lot more about how they learn and react and in turn, it’s taught me more about the human spirit that I ever thought it would.
There once was a dog named Emma. Emma lived by the beach but she never had a chance to see it. You see, Emma spent the first six years of her life living outside in a small cage. She was fed and provided companionship but only when it would result in a new litter of puppies.
And then one day, the people that owned Emma decided to release her. She had produced all the quality puppies that she could and they had no use for her. Her life was meant to end there but someone decided Emma needed a second chance at life. She was placed with a rescue group and made her way to the state capital where she was put on display for adoption.
She was terrified. Since she left her home, she had been operated on (spayed) and had all of her teeth removed because they were so rotten. And through her one good eye (the other had a cataract), she watched all the people walking by under the bright fluorescent lights of the pet store.
Although she was in a small pen, she was sure no one would want her because she was shy and subdued and the other puppy she was caged with was very outgoing. One woman stopped and pointed at Emma. “That one,” she said to the man in attendance. And even though she had no intention of adopting a new dog, within two weeks, Emma was on her way to her new home.
It was a slow transition. Emma didn’t like men, didn’t understand leashes, and felt anxiety when she had too much freedom. She ate as if there were no more meals to be had and very slowly learned what it meant to play.
What she lacked in confidence, she made up for in cuteness. She quickly became part of the family.
Then the family moved and the man of the house decided he wanted a puppy. He loved Emma but wanted a dog that wasn’t afraid of him. He wanted a dog that didn’t have so much baggage. And so, one day, the woman found a puppy available from a rescue group. She wasn’t sure she wanted the responsibility of another dog, especially a puppy, but the man convinced her and they welcomed Roscoe into their home.
Emma was curious but unsure. She was hesitant but Roscoe, with his puppy spirit, didn’t know nor care about Emma’s history or her anxieties. He would grab her ears and wrestle with her. And she wrestled back. She slowly learned not only what it meant to play, but what it meant to play with others!
They were complete opposites: Roscoe had long dark hair and a free spirit as he roamed around chasing butterflies and birds in the sky that he would never reach. In the middle of the summer, he’s stop at every patch of shade and in winter, he was unstoppable in the snow. Emma, on the other hand, with her short curly apricot fur, hated the snow. She loved to just sit in the sun for hours or roll around in the grass and expose her belly to the light and the heat. Those were her happiest moments.
Within a year or so, Emma’s health started to decline. She suffered congestive heart failure, glaucoma, and cataracts. She reached the point where she couldn’t talk long walks and she couldn’t see anything other that light and dark. Roscoe knew her health was declining. When she would come home from a procedure, he’d leave her alone, sensing she needed some recuperation time. They still played but Emma would tire easily.
Finally, earlier this year, Emma succumbed to her heart condition and left Roscoe to be the family dog. At first, he didn’t seem to notice she was gone and then he did. He showed signs of depression: laying in bed all day, overeating, not wanting to play. In rare moments, he’d try to play with the cat Beamer who simply would have none of that.
And with much hesitation, four months after Emma passed away, the man and the woman considered getting a friend for Roscoe. They wanted a dog young enough to still want to play but old enough to have some well-established habits.
What they ended up with was Layla, a mess of a dog from a local animal shelter. At only 7 months old, she was quite the puppy. She arrived with matted fur, no social skills, and housebreaking habits that were less than desirable.
The woman felt uneasy with the energy of a puppy in her house as she was still grieving over the loss of Emma. But within a few weeks, she started to see the magic of friendship blooming again.
Layla wanted to play, play, PLAY and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Roscoe learned to wrestle again. He became more spirited as he wanted to show Layla he was much faster and better at fetch. He, now the older dog, was ready to show Layla the ropes.
She watched what he did at mealtime. She learned his habits at bedtime. And she eagerly watched when he barked on alert and learned when she was to do the same. But the best learning came went they went for walk together. Roscoe had long since outgrown chasing butterflies but to Layla, the world was new. When fall arrived, she chased the blowing leaves and Roscoe followed suit. And when the first snow fell, Roscoe and Layla learned they had a shared love of the white stuff. They’re sure to be friends for a long, long time.
While dogs are meant to be human companions, it’s amazing when you’re able to sit back and watch the companionship they provide each other. While I still miss Emma tremendously and Layla drives me nuts with her puppy antics, seeing the cycle of friendship continue is one that makes me smile every day.