89: Paw de Deux

89: Paw de Deux

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog

Paw de Deux

You can dance anywhere, even if only in your heart.

~Author Unknown

I look down at my almost-thirteen-year-old dog, Buddy, and smile. It looks like someone has taken a magical paintbrush and traced white around his most beloved features for emphasis. To me, these are the best years. I think of them as the years of the Dance of Devotion.

The Dance is choreographed slowly by our subconscious minds. What began in tentative, gentle steps has melded over the years into a graceful pas de deux. We’ve learned, Buddy and I, how to move around each other in that symbiotic sway of companionable souls.

The Dance became clear to me the morning after my last dog died, when I stepped out of bed and realized for the first time that I wasn’t putting my feet on the floor, but gently tapping with one toe to make sure I didn’t step on my beloved companion... the one who should have been lying in the spot that was now so cruelly and profoundly empty.

In the days that followed, I learned just how many steps there were to that dance. I drew my feet up when I sat at my desk to make room for the dog that should have been under my chair. I reached for an invisible head in my lap. I hesitated for him as I moved about the house and waited at the door for the one who was normally there before I even knew I was leaving. I missed him over and over and over, until I finally realized I had spent more time in close proximity to that dog than I had any other being in my life.

Now, years later, I find myself dancing another duet. It happens when I put on the gardening shoes that mean we are going outside, or when I walk in that purposeful way that means I’m leaving for work soon. Or it happens on those rare occasions when Buddy needs to be let out in the middle of the night, and he knows how to bark in an apologetic whisper.

It’s delicate and gracious and so very subtle, this dance. I suspect to a seasoned old gentleman like my dog, it’s somewhat crass to bark loudly, so instead, he stands by the door and shifts from side to side when he wants to go out. Click click, go his toenails on the wooden floor. Click click. It is a patient, benign sound, barely audible. Yet I find myself headed for the door when I hear it.

We move to the rhythm of our routines. Dozens and dozens of cues, signals, exchanges, every day. Step, sway, tap, glide.

Like most of us, it takes a dog a lifetime to get truly wonderful, and the dance is a hard, hard thing to let go. When it’s that time that every devoted pet owner dreads because it comes much, much too fast, we shouldn’t feel silly because we are grieving for a pet, but honored. The enormity of the grief is testimony to the greatness of love.

To love a pet is to know a universal truth at its most elemental: True love is not confined to mere species. Love transcends.

I look at my friend again and smile as his tail thumps. Someday the final bow will come, but I will always hold what I learned from this gentle, humble creature. True love is, after all, nothing less than the embrace of souls.

~T’Mara Goodsell

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