Two Pit mixes, Tatum and Simon, are flying side by side across the grass of the paddock, low to the ground and yipping wildly. Simon can leap to face level with me from a standing position and has a head like the end of a shovel, but he is in love now, and all he wants is to chase Tatum who plays hard to get until he comes to me, a grinning happy fool, and collapses inside my legs. He smiles that big-mouthed Pit smile and leans against me. Tatum races over, eager to be in on the happy two of us; she crashes into my arms extended full length to cushion the shock and then burrows in as close to Simon and me as is possible.
You might wear a face that looks as if you fight every day of the week, act like a goblin with other members of our species, drift through your day like a ghost, disregarded by everybody, be reckless, senseless and wild, but still you can find individuals of this tribe who will come to you and treat you as if you alone held the secrets of paradise.
Vinnie is a fusion of Great Dane and Pyrenees, already large and moving toward city-size, but when we take a break, and I sit down on a tree trunk, he wants to be so close that he tries to crawl into my lap.
Whenever I stop walking, Cadet, a Shepherd mix with a wolf’s lope and a black mask, will softly approach and tunnel his head between my legs so that I can lean over and cup my hands around it. His tail begins to wag when I begin to coo.
I sit on the ground for Tank, an enormously strong balance between Lab and Pit, and when he has turned this way and that and determined that the space around him is benign, he lets the leash go slack, and he settles next to me and rolls his big head onto my legs.
And Bubbles, an ironically named charcoal Pit who stands legs apart and head up, a sentient chunk of iron, will lean into me, all her weight settling against me, turn her head up to my face, close her eyes and begin to purr with pleasure when I stroke the heavy underside of her jaw.
Forget that grandiose, operatic idea of ‘unconditional love’ sometimes thrown out in sound bites by talking heads on TV dog shows. Dogs cannot speak to us, and so in our loneliness we might imagine a grand, selfless romance. We make of them avatars of our deepest longings and thus miss what they actually do – they perform a service much more real and heartfelt. Most of them accept us in all our shambling imperfections. They acknowledge us. They beguile from us food, shelter, affection and protection, and in return they come to us and with their bodies recognize our own existence in this absolutely precise time and place. They give us the gift of immediacy. They engage our better selves.
Tank and Bubbles