A is for affection

We long for an affection altogether ignorant of our faults. Heaven has accorded this to us in the uncritical canine attachment.

George Eliot

Three months into the Covid-19 lockdown two of our elderly dogs were failing. Anyone who lives with an aging pet will commiserate – some days are pleasant and incident-free, others are dreadful. During confinement, with people hyper aware of personal space, the tensions surrounding shared living quarters are exasperated by having nine dogs. Sometimes the air crackles with discontentment. An old dog has a problem with his bowels. You wake in the middle of the night knowing that if you don’t carry him outdoors right now, before the crap drops, you risk him smelling up the entire house. Half awake, you jump up, sliding into a bathrobe and slippers. Get him to the garden and clean it up. By the time the alarm goes off, you should be asleep.

As bothersome as it is, you do it. Because they are your dogs.

What does this have to do with Affection?

Lately, I’ve been wondering about the nature of our dogs’ consideration for us. You could call it love, but love seems so trite a word. The vocabulary of Valentine’s Day, or the trite ending to a letter or a phone call. A dog wouldn’t bother to dash off a “Love you!” before slipping away to explore the woods. I prefer to think of their regard for us as affection. You can love someone or something, even without personal interactions. I love jujubes. I love Elvis. But I am aware of my dogs’ feelings towards me because I am affected by my dogs. Let me explain:

Living in Japan many years ago, I met a Japanese guy, got to know him, and rapidly we were seeing each other almost daily. Soon I noticed he would leave a personal item behind when he left my place. A comb, a t-shirt, a book… It was annoying, and the items were adding up. I asked a close friend what it meant.

Oh, don’t they do that in Canada? It means he wants to get serious.

Huh? By forgetting things in my apartment?

Yes, it might seem weird, but he’s leaving a bit of himself behind. You’re being invited to look after his possessions. Just wait until he gets sick. He’ll let you nurse him when he gets a cold or something. That’s right, let you, and that’s as close to him declaring love that you’ll get.

Food for thought: he’s in a vulnerable state, he lets his guard down, I am allowed to nurture … ergo he feels something for me? Add that to a long list of differences between Japanese culture and my own.

Now I realise, this is exactly what dogs do to us: they put us in a position to sense their appreciation. Their lives depend on us. We cherish them; they move us, and we hold them in high regard. So, like some Japanese, by allowing us to care for them, they show us what we mean to them. That’s how I know my dogs feel affection for me. Okay, let’s call it love.

Leave a Comment

Languages »