I have a dog who gives me high fives first with one paw, then with the other, then with both before spinning across the floor with more joy than any creature should have a right to. She bucks like a donkey, this strange little dog, with her oversized eyes and floppy spaniel ears. She has this sort of joy that is contagious, that lifts me up when nothing else will. She huffs at me when she wants me, her sadly debarked voice rising in adamant gusts of air. Even with her voice box gone she has made a new voice, a new bark, a new way of telling me what she wants and when she wants it. To get her to eat we play hunt the bunny. I through a kibble in the air and she chases after it, her oversized grinch feet lifted high as she pounces down on the cornered kibble and eats it. I don’t tell her to eat from her bowl, what would be the fun of that when I can watch her hunt her dinner like a bazar little dancing tiger, spinning, pouncing, soaring across the carpet, crunching.
She’s the smallest of my dogs, the fiercest of my dogs, the most loyal and protective. She never had a mom or a home until she met me. She was a brood bitch at a breeding kennel having puppies all her life. When I look at her now, curled up on my pillow, her tiny sides heaving, her eyes closed as she dreams and kicks, I can not believe that this tiny spaniel ever lived anywhere without pillows and carpets and a mommy who plays hunt the bunny with her dinner.
When she and her sister first came to our house, my little one had no sense of space. She would bump into everything, careening off this dog or that wall, slipping and sliding through my house, eating so ravenously that you would think she’d never eaten in her life. She would sleep draped over the water bowl, steal trats from other spaniels and was growled at for her lack of self-control. She was nervous, anxious, shaking with the newness of living indoors with a family and her old survival instincts did not work in her new world. One morning I walked into the kitchen to see her much larger sister a sleep in front of the heater, my little one laying on top of her like a bear rug, her head laid on that of her sister’s. “This is how they kept warm,” I told myself, one blanketing the other, remembering the chill countryside they’d lived in. My little one always sits and lays on her large comfortable sister, piling on top of her like a too large, too rambunctious puppy.
When her sister’s eye was infected, my little one washed it, when my arm was injured, my little one washed it, when my heart was broken, my little one laid on my chest and stretched her tiny self out and held me until I healed. They say God disguised his best angels as animals to comfort us. He filled them with the innocence we lost, with the playfulness we forgot, with all the laughter and silliness we left behind in childhood. I laugh when my little one runs up to me and gives me a high five whether I’m expecting one or not. It’s like she’s saying in her breathy voice, “you’ve got this mama. You’ve already won.” And I have. I have her and she has me and when I hold her to my heart, I remember what it was to be a child and I am happy because she is happy, we are happy, and we are free.