Two of the most important friends I’ve ever had involved interspecies relationships. Which is to say, dogs. Those relationships spanned nearly 30 years of my life, they helped shape me, teach me, sustain me, and they opened my heart.
In the canine-centric community of Sonoma, and in this dog-loving country (where domestic dogs are reported to outnumber children by 15 million), dog love is a given.
There are approximately 1,800 registered dogs in the City of Sonoma, and uncountable thousands more in the unincorporated Sonoma Valley. Which is why it seemed to make sense that we explore the subject, examining both the practical aspects of having (and being) a dog in the Valley of the Moon, and the intangible elements of the human-canine interface, that emotional, magical—some would say mystical—connection in which people and the creatures they call “pets” experience a clearly symbiotic relationship.
We know that dogs and people have been intertwined for millennia—easily 80,000 years, some anthropologists conclude, and perhaps several times longer—certainly long enough for the intimate, interspecies proximity to have a genetic impact on their mutual evolution.
But DNA trails alone can’t lead to a full understanding of the depth and dimensions of this unique bond. Dogs and humans are yoked in a way that transcends science, has roots in the soul and is expressed and experienced through touch and look and unspoken understanding.
Mickey was a gray, standard poodle, shaggy, unclipped and unkempt, sometimes mistaken for a sheep. As the family dog, she was an effervescent font of love, an irrepressible wellspring of joy—loyal, loving, gentle, steadfast and true—she was every cliché in every over-written dog book. She really was. Poodles are smart, and Mickey learned the basic dog commands to a fault. I once told her to wait outside a building on a college campus while I went inside for a meeting, then left by a different door forgetting I had brought her with me. An hour and a half later someone called to tell me Mickey was still waiting. When I got to her she had been there for more than two hours, unmoving, patient, trusting, seemingly unfazed by my casually careless oversight.
Poodles are water dogs and there was a lake we swam in frequently, so Mickey usually joined us, keeping a watchful eye from close at hand. As she grew older and lost her endurance, she still refused to leave the water until we did, dog-paddling next to us until we had to stop swimming to give her a rest. There was a 15-foot-high ridge we used to dive from into the lake and I had just surfaced when I saw Mickey, already exhausted from an hour of swimming, hurl herself off the ridge in a frenzy of protective concern. We prize such devotion in humans, but it seems to be second nature in dogs.
We tend to romanticize our canine relationships, perhaps because they’re easier to manage than the human ones, but they are no less valued or valid. Some of Mickey’s gentle patience began to register on me as not just the obedient behavior of a good pet, but as a living quality at large in the universe, expressed there in the life of that dog. And if we pay attention, we can learn from our dogs something about the qualities we cherish in humans.
Mickey lived to be 14 and is buried now near the lake where we swam, and a family member observed later on, “I think that, as much as from any person, I learned from Mickey something of what it is to be a gentle spirit.” We hope these dog stories resonate with you.
David Bolling, Editor & Publisher, Valley of the Moon Magazine
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