A part of our pack

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Sara Goldberg sits with her dog Kaiya, who’s a “spitfire,” she says. Courtesy photo

Our furry friends shed and drool and produce an astonishing array of grunts, sighs and adorable barks, woofs and bow-wows to communicate. We teach them to perform silly pet tricks, we bestow creative names like Master Snuffles, Duke of Barkington or Lady Penelope Grace von Wigglebottom and ask them to protect us from things that go bump in the night. We show them how to fit into comfortable companionship with our particular lifestyle and become the best of friends. If you’re active or quiet, enjoy control or chaos, they’ll be right by your side. In fact, the more you allow a dog to participate in your lifestyle, the more they’ll change their ways to happily fit into your pack—even if it’s a pack of two.

Sometimes, welcoming a dog into our life is just meant to be. After losing a 12-year-old fur baby to spleen cancer, Sara Goldberg decided to adopt from a rescue that brought pups up from shelters in Arkansas. “When I read her description, it was hilarious, I just knew. They called Kaiya a ‘pistol.’ She’s a spitfire, a perpetual puppy with sad brown eyes. We think she’s part boxer, part chihuahua and maybe part puggle—just a cute, little, brown dog.”

As Kaiya got over her shyness, she fit in as a full member of the family. Her love and loyalty blossomed. “She’s so devoted, very, very loyal,” says Goldberg. “She goes with us everywhere and loves to ride in the car. She’ll just sit and wait for us without making a peep.”

But their relationship goes beyond basic canine company. Kaiya brings to her family a unique trait, something seldom seen in a dog. “She’s so in tune with us, she even feels remorse.” Goldberg says that if Kaiya thinks she has done something wrong, it’s almost as if she wants to apologize. “She will come lay down next to you until you reassure her and tell her it’s OK,” Goldberg explains. “You can see that she feels bad and wants to make sure everything’s all right.”

That kind of caring demonstrates the unique awareness that some pets forge with their human family. They become confidante and companion, sensing when something is wrong, whether it’s through behavior or scent, and like the best of friends, they want to make it right.

Goldberg believes she and Kaiya trained each other well. “I set our routine. We get up. She goes out and does her stuff. Then we have breakfast and she gets her reward. When we go out for a walk, we have a neighbor who always leaves a treat on their doorstep. If I try to take another route for our stroll, she stops and insists we walk down that street. I’m sure she knows it’s there.”

In fact, she just might smell it.

One thing we may underestimate is a dog’s incredible sense of smell. Nose up in the air, nostrils a-wiggling, pups are constantly evaluating their surroundings. Their unique olfactory systems give them clues as to how we’re feeling, sometimes before we know it. Did you know that dogs smell in stereo? Each side of their nose can smell independently, and they have exponentially more receptor cells than humans. Imagine how a cookie smells, hot out of the oven. A dog could smell that one cookie in a stadium filled with high school athletes and lead you right to it.

When a dog breathes, they receive messages that get translated in myriad ways. Exhaling through slits in the side of their nose, they create a little whirlwind that sweeps more aroma in for the next breath. Almost like Dizzy Gillespie’s circular breathing while playing jazz trumpet or that little pink Energizer bunny, it keeps going and going and going. Dogs can even sense scent history in subtle lingering aromas left behind. This means that they can tell who was here before us, where we are, where we have been, who we’ve encountered, how we felt about it, how we’re feeling now and what we had for breakfast in a single breath.

Kaiya, Penelope Grace von Wigglebottom and the one who’s a part of your pack at home, all become part of our families. They stand in for a partner, sometimes even replace them when they’re gone. They give us shoulders to cry on, ears to whisper secrets in and buddies to hike beside. They’re eager fetchers of balls and catchers of Frisbees. They are foot warmers, couch cuddlers and family photo-bombers.

Purveyors of an endless supply of snuggles, games of you can’t catch me and sweet, fuzzy nuzzling when we really need it. No matter what, the boundless joy they display, all over you, every time you come through the door, makes everything worthwhile. Gone five minutes, walk back in and it’s like your birthday. We’re so happy to see you! Where have you been?! Missed you so much! Got any treats?

Cynthia Finnemore Simonds loves to cook good food, bring people together and write about how squishing life’s lemons make a fantastic cocktail. www.facebook.com/mindfulmouthful

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