In the middle of the night, I wake to the sound of my dog’s tail slapping the floor. I smile—which is not my usual response to being awake at 3 am. Ty, my 75-pound, 10-year old yellow Labrador Retriever is dreaming. I lay there for several minutes listening to his tail and wondering at the dream images or dream odors or dream tastes —or whatever “senses” my dog has available to him in the sleeping state—that are causing such a happy sound to fill the dark of night. Sometimes Ty barks and growls in his dreams, or churns his legs in a somnambulistic chase. His sleeping form is a vision of aliveness: breathing and being. I gaze at him for minutes at a time, asleep and awake, marveling at the fullness of his presence, his utter lack of self-consciousness.
Living with an animal is an invitation to mystery. And joy. When Ty was a puppy, my partner and I routinely found ourselves snort laughing at his antics. “Did we ever laugh before we had a dog?” we wondered. Even now, there are surprises—just last week I enticed him with a leaf that had come in on my shoe and he instantly bounded over to me, snatched it delicately with his teeth and twirled around several times in a tight little circle as if to say—“This is the leaf game I’ve been waiting to show you my whole life.” I did it six times and each time he repeated the dance. And each time, we too, were taken anew by deep laughter, the way a baby’s laugh bubbles up fresh with every peek-a-boo, never bored.
Living with an animal is also an invitation to feel the extent of my own love—and fear and responsibility. One morning in late spring, after doing a quick ground scan to make sure there were no skunks in the vicinity, I let Ty out to do his business. I turned my back and heard a bark. Out the window I saw a hulking black bear one yard over, eyeing my yellow dog. Ty’s bark was bravado—but his stance was curious—and I trembled reflexively as I screamed in my most enticing voice for him to come back inside—no matter that he hadn’t peed yet. He came in unscathed and happy. I shivered all morning at what might have happened.
Ty is a good dog. A dear companion. A goofy reminder that life is not always serious. A teacher. Ever in the present, he pulls me to what’s most important: The freshness of the day, the thrill of a long walk, the beauty of a romp in any body of water, the joy in a leaf. He’s also a reflection and reminder of what I sometimes miss in my humanness: the fineness of being, the easy way to inhabit a body. The trust possible between any two beings.
By Lynn Koerbel