I recently watched a viral video of a mastiff seeing his family’s two little girls onto the school bus. The dog sat in the front yard like a sentinel as the girls stood on the curb, and he did not move until the bus door closed behind them.
It touched me and reminded me of all the wonderful pet greetings and send-offs I had as a kid.
In elementary school, at the end of each day my mother would wait for me at the top of the hill with our golden retriever puppy, Lucy. As soon as I got in view, my mom would let go of the leash and Lucy would bound down the hill, somersaulting with excitement to get to me.
It made me feel like the most special kid in the world.
In middle school, my mom drove me to school. Old Lucy didn’t like the car, but our new golden, Penny, wouldn’t let me leave her behind. She’d jump into the middle seat of our truck and keep me company on the short drive to school. Penny’s zeal for our morning routine always made me feel more happy and hopeful about my day.
Every teenager needs a therapy dog.
Once, Penny was unusually occupied with a ball in the backseat. I reached back to pry it out of her mouth only to find myself holding the severed head of a rabbit.
I screamed and threw it out the window as fast as I could.
One of the most disgusting experiences of my life.
But a hilarious start to a school day.
When I started driving myself, I had to relinquish my canine escort. Luckily the cat stepped in. Every afternoon, our cat Smoochie would sit outside the house waiting for me. He would trot over as soon as he heard my car, slow to a stroll when I was in sight, and when I was a few paces away, he’d throw himself to the ground and show me his belly in a languorous stretch hello.
These small moments, just a routine action repeated hundreds of times, have stayed with me. They made me feel loved, chosen, and important. My pets injected a little silliness, a little unpredictability, a little softness to the start and end of my days. They bracketed every day with a reminder of what really mattered, that the furry beings I took care of also took care of me.
I don’t know why my old pets saying hello and goodbye stand out in my memory so much. Maybe because their love was so consistent and true. No stress or busyness got in the way of their love and enthusiasm.
Maybe because they didn’t have words, they spoke directly to my heart.
I still enjoy this as an adult. As soon as my key turns to unlock my apartment, my cat Mimi runs to the door — I know because I can hear her meow — but once I open it, she darts out of sight.
It’s the thought that counts.
My dog Pip sleeps in the front hall until I return and greets me by lightly jumping on my knees for a fluffy hug.
They never let me feel as if I live alone.
Maybe I have hellos and goodbyes on my mind because the new year is at our doorstep.
Next year might be the greatest year ever, or it might be a year you have to throw something revolting out the window. The best we can do is remind ourselves what, or who, matters. To remember whom we want to look after, and what we want to welcome with open arms. And most important, to show our gratitude, intentions, and love with action, no matter how small.
Let’s try to greet 2020 like a golden retriever!
Or, if you’re tired, try for a languorous cat.
And let’s not forget to acknowledge those who made 2019 softer on us.
Now that Pip is in his senior years, he sleeps more deeply. Maybe his hearing is going, or maybe the days just wear him out, but lately when I come home, he doesn’t wake up right away. I open the door slowly, in case he’s sleeping behind it. I enter quietly, so as not to startle him, and I kneel at his side, letting my smell or a light stroke of his head wake him up gently.
Pip’s tail starts to wag before his eyes are fully open.
I make a point to do this, because I want him to know that I’ve been waiting to see him, that every chance I get to say hello to him matters to me, because he is special and loved.
I want to return the favor.
Happy New Year.