He lays his head on my lap and looks up at me with so much love that my heart feels it could burst. At night the warmth of his body is comforting, his rhythmic breathing calming. He delights me countless times a day, his stange quirks, his wrinkled nose grin and his desire to be as close to me as possible, always. He seems so content so much of the time, but there are moments, lately increasingly occurring, in which his silence confounds me. It’s hard to read him sometimes and I don’t want to assume the feelings which he cannot voice, at least not in a way that I can understand. Is he really happy? What is he thinking? Does he resent me for choices I’ve had to make; does he mind only able to walk freely in the sunshine when I decide?
They say that dogs live in the moment, that they don’t bear grudges or draw comparisons as humans do. But it’s hard not to imagine his disappointment sometimes, when we walk the same route, through the same park, almost bald of trees, when once he was running free daily through forest, up and down hills, splashing in rivers, chasing rabbits. Yet his tail wags and his nose twitches with the same gusto as it did back then. As I pick up his lead and put on my coat, he barks and dances circles of joy, such is his unbounded enthusiasm for a walk, anywhere at any time.
Dogs can teach us so much. Not for the first time, but the most profoundly, I realized this one scorching summer day last year, when we had recently moved to the city of Seville from the hills of Cordoba. Every evening before the move that summer, we’d walked through the forest to a little waterfall and swum in the ice cold, pristine water beneath it. Pepe adored diving in, fetching his stick and feeling the heat drip off his body. I relished how the cold water enveloped my body and made my fingers and toes tingle, my mind finally coming alive after a long day of sweltering heat. I’d float on my back and marvel at the overhanging trees with their ancient looking branches and leaves that resembled elderly fingers, waving softly in the breeze. The water was the only sound, save the odd screeching bird. Until Pepe broke my reverie with his wet face sniffing at mine, his claws grasping at my body, urging me to throw another stick and stop being so boring. Not a day went by that I didn’t feel utterly thankful for having this paradise on my doorstep, the paradise that Pepe came to know as routine.
Then we moved to the city, the correct thing but also a hard thing to do. I spent so long researching places to take Pepe for a swim, and the options were depressingly low. On one of the many dog forums and google searches to which I’d lost hours of my life, I discovered a park on the outskirts of Seville that boasted a “doggie swimming pool”. The blogger who’d posted this comprehensive guide to dog parks in the city even gave this revelation a literary drum roll (Trrruunnnnnn), and so my excitement soared at the thought of a pool full of happy dogs splashing around, diving in, chasing balls. I strapped Pepe into the car and off we set for what I hoped would make up for binging him to this concrete furnace.
The park was nice enough, nothing particularly special, but for Pepe the new smells made it instantly the most exciting place he’d ever visited. I listened eagerly for the barks and splashes that would lead me to the pool and I was beginning to think I’d taken us to the wrong park, as the oasis never appeared. And then my heart sank down to my feet and a lump gathered in my throat as the two metre wide, ankle deep reinforced puddle came into view. I turned to Pepe to apologise, I wanted to cry into his fur and beg his forgiveness for letting him down with the lousiest excuse for a swimming pool. But he raced past me, ears pricked, tail like a windscreen wiper, straight into the water, where he stood barking at me to throw him a stick. I threw it, over and over again, overjoyed by his joy, humbled by his desire to be happy regardless of the circumstances, his ability to find rapture in any situation that involved a stick, no matter how crap it was in my inferior human opinion. He was the happiest dog in the world; life was coursing through his veins and he was truly embracing the present in a way I envied and admired. That day changed my perspective and reminded me that life is as beautiful as we allow it to be.
He’s my inspiration, yet he still remains such a mystery to me. Yes, he’s happy when his tail wags, he’s scared when he cowers by my side on account of the fireworks that the neighbourhood enjoys so much, he’s exhilarated when he’s running through grass or sand and ecstatic in water. But I want to know more than these evident emotions, I want to converse with him, ask him questions. I wish he could talk to me; I’d love to hear his thoughts. Is he truly content right now as he lies half asleep on the sofa, his blue bone toy resting against his chest? What is it he wants to communicate when he sits before me, looking unrelentingly into my eyes? Is it simply another walk, a game, a few treats? Or is there something more important he wants me to know, something profound and wise that I brush off with that condescending voice we use for pets? Then again, just like me, would he simply like to have a chat over tea and biscuits?
Returning from his morning walk with his other human I ask him “Did you have fun? Did you? Did you have a nice walk?” and he seems delighted by my interest, tail a-wag, sneezing with excitement, and I smother him in love and kisses. But eventually the excitement wears off and he lets out a big sigh as he resigns himself to a few more hours of boredom, or maybe peaceful contemplation, before us humans deem it time to go out or play again. Forever an enigma will be the creature whom you love so much, but understand so little.