The smile bearer

We had this cartoon made of her a couple of weeks ago.

My last posts have not been what you might call happy. I was going through some rough patches in my life, some demons in my head that refused to let go. But here’s the thing about demons: they feed on whatever bad energy you give them. Yes, sometimes it’s not enough to just say “I’m not going to bring myself down today”; things have to actually happen so you can feel better. And things did happen this week that made me feel a whole lot better. But there’s one thing in my life that has always brought me a smile no matter what happens: my dog.

A week before my birthday last July, Y. took D. to an undisclosed location. I remember her telling me that she had to do something about my birthday and something else. I love surprises, and I trust her unquestionably, so I didn’t ask anything. I just took my alone time in stride. So rare, so precious.

About two hours and change later, they came back, carrying a hastily wrapped box. “It’s a rare book”, she tells me. I knew it wasn’t a book, but believe you me, I would’ve expected a new car before what I found in that box. I sort of push apart the papers and, poking my hand in, I say, “I feel something warm”. And then a little head poked up. I’d like to say I was instantly enthralled, but like everything else these days, there’s evidence of what really happened that day.

I can tell you what happened as I saw this little nine-week-old puppy explore the house, sniffing along, and then slowly but surely claiming our hearts as her own: I was terrified. It was such a huge responsibility. The vet bills, the food, the toys, the bed, and a long et cetera. I was looking forward to having a dog, but I was thinking when we moved to our own house, have better economic conditions, etc.

But you try looking into those eyes and not commit to anything. Anything.

We had to name her Leia. This is a Star Wars family above all.

Leia is the second dog I’ve had in my life, and she comes under much better conditions than my first one. That was Baloo, a (probable) Schnauzer-Jack Russell mix that I had after a friend’s dog gave birth to three puppies. I had just gotten married, and it was not going well, as almost everybody around me said it would go. I was working from home, spent a lot of time by myself, and was very, very sad most of the time. So a dog was almost mandatory. (Actually therapy, but c’mon, a dog.)

My favorite picture of Baloo.

Baloo had ten times the energy Leia has. He barked more, shed more hair, and was a nipper. He was also such a rock during those months. One day I was feeling everything bad happening around me like a ton of bricks, so I start playing with him. He must have been four months old, and as we play he suddenly gets on me, grabs my nose, and bites —hard. I feel blood gushing out, and I am furious. I of course do not strike him, but I immediately get up and scold him. Wait, no, that’s not true — I scream at him. He looks at me absolutely terrified, knows he did a bad thing. I storm off and lock myself into the bedroom and sit on the bed, calming myself down. Five minutes later I hear the scratches on the door –“Daddyyyy… I’m sorryyyyy…”

I come out and he is so thrilled, like he hasn’t seen me in a while. But I say one “NO!” and he sits back. I felt miserable, so miserable. I just walked to the couch, sat down, started to sob and weep. I even slid down, bawling, covering my eyes and mouth lest the neighbors got concerned. And then I felt Baloo on my lap. He poked my hands off, and started licking my tears. Then he didn’t say a word, just curled up in my lap, and was just… there for me. And I felt better.

That’s what dogs do. And I think any dog owner will agree (not to mention science). Having a dog is having your very own smile dispenser right there. Because even if they do a mess, they have these faces that beg you not to get mad at them –and they succeed. They are the purest form of love and joy you can imagine. They actively seek you out to play or just cuddle. There’s always that old story that says that if you lock up a child and a dog in the trunk of a car, it will be the dog who will be overjoyed to see you when you open the trunk. And I believe in this quote (wrongly attributed to actor Bill Murray, but the man still has a very touching dog story):

I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person.

As I write this, Leia is just sitting at my feet. She occasionally looks up at me, raises her little paw so I pay more attention to her. She’s been up with us since 4 am, in a very relaxed mood. She likes to get in bed with us, cuddle, and then go for a walk. She loves her toys, especially the squeaky ones. And she loves us. Even D., who is not known for her gentle touch. But Leia will actively look for her to play. Loves to wake her up to school. She’s a companion, she’s a friend, she’s another daughter. She’s our dog, and I am so blessed to have her in my life.

This is one of our favorite things to do.

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