• Shannon Sevigny, M.C., RP, CCC

You're My Best Friend: A Love Letter to Dogs

What dogs mean to and bring out in me.

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

- Roger Caras

A question was posed on Twitter the other day: “What’s holding you together at this point?” Without pause, one of my answers was, “The reminder that dogs exist.” Dogs, also (preferably) referred to as doggos or puppers, bring me joy in a way I cannot adequately explain. Even without having a dog in my life right now, just knowing that dogs are a part of this world is enough to make me happy and feel like everything is okay.

I am known as a dog person. I light up and have a visceral response whenever I think of dogs, see a picture or video of dogs, and of course when I am in the presence of a dog. There is a feeling of expansion, a leaning in, an embodiment of pure joy. A feeling of calm washes over me, a sense of stillness and presence. I am in that moment, totally focused on this other being, totally taken with them. I speak a certain way, in a high-pitched cooing voice, asking questions about their day and happenings, knowing they do not understand me whatsoever. And yet they engage with me, playing along and pleased with the attention and praise. And that response right there is what captures my heart every time.

Dogs want so little from us and get so much from what honestly takes very little of us to give. The wholesomeness of this relationship is unmatched. Dogs have no egoic agenda. They have pure intentions. They just want our company, praise, and affection. We are their whole world. They love us unconditionally. Dogs don’t care what our hair looks like in the morning, what’s on our resume, what our relationship status is, if we were productive today or made a mistake yesterday. Dogs see in us our basic goodness, stripped of any requirements. I feel most like myself when I am with a dog. Ego evaporates, brain noise quiets down, and I feel truly seen. I can just “be” in their presence.

What do you say, Percy? I am thinking of sitting out on the sand to watch the moon rise. It’s full tonight. So we go
and the moon rises, so beautiful it makes me shudder, makes me think about time and space, makes me take measure of myself: one iota pondering heaven.
Thus we sit, myself thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich it is to love the world. Percy, meanwhile, leans against me and gazes up into my face. As though I were just as wonderful as the perfect moon.
“The Sweetness of Dogs” by Mary Oliver

Dogs have no ego. They are not concerned with how they are perceived, what their story is. There is no thinking self, only the observing self. They are able to be so present, to drop into the moment in a way we humans struggle to do. They are not analyzing, not trying to make sense or meaning of every experience. They are not worried about being “too much” or “not enough.” They do not water down their personalities, or dilute the joy they feel. Is there anything cuter than watching a dog try to control its excitement, with their whole body vibrating from sheer delight?

Dogs are able to experience joy from the smallest of things. One of my favourite memories of my dog Holly (pictured) was how she could play for HOURS the “getting the ball out of the pool” game. We should all be so lucky to have even a minute during our day when we can be this captivated and enthralled by a simple activity, to be so present in and content from something we are doing. Playing with dogs allows for moments of this for me. I do become so present, and seeing the world through their eyes always gets me out of my head for a bit. It’s similar to interacting with a baby or child. There is a playfulness, curiosity, and silliness that is contagious. I truly believe these are states we need to seek out and embrace more.

Dogs can be a constant in our lives. They can show us the love others may have placed conditions on. We can connect with them in ways maybe we cannot with humans. Dogs can be our trusty sidekick, our loyal companion, our guaranteed morning kiss, our therapy, and sense of connectedness and security. They can be our best friend. There is a reason why dogs are invaluable in people’s lives. They make wonderful companions, emotional support animals, guides, guards, and buddies. The evolution of our history as friends is extraordinary, and we’ve both benefited from this relationship. I’ll never be able to explain the impact of dogs on people’s lives in a post. I honestly don’t know if anyone can truly articulate this, as there is an intimate, intangible, and ineffable quality to these relationships.

The relationship with a pet teaches us patience, compromise, and attunement. In training them, and just living with them, we learn the importance of being non-reactive and compassionate. We need to be there for them, as they rely on us for everything. They are innocent and dependent. They elicit a tenderness, a nurturing response of wanting to protect them and make them happy. We become total suckers for them. We both know they’re sleeping on that bed, sitting on that couch, getting that second cookie, regardless of what we say. It’s hard to be truly stern because they just look at you with those evolved “puppy dog” eyes. We both know who really has the power in this relationship.

Holly held all the power over me. She was our family dog and we were blessed with her for 9 years, having adopted her when she was 5. She was stubborn, a food-fiend, dangerously intelligent, and such a sweetheart. She passed away in October 2018 and I still miss her. I didn’t fully realize what she brought into my life until she was gone. This happens with the loss of a pet, especially when you have lived most of your life with one; it’s not until you don’t have that daily pitter-patter that you notice the silence. It’s the separation that really allows you to see the way they shaped your days and filled your life. This realization is pure anguish. Her loss was devastating, a disenfranchised grief that amplified how alone I felt without her. Fortunately, I did find validation and support through a pet loss Facebook group. But the weight of that loss never leaves, it only lessens over time. I loved her, and her companionship brought me so much joy. Without those moments to look forward to, life has honestly felt duller.

Holly’s death took a lot from me, but it also gave me a lot: an opportunity to reflect on the intensity of my grief and sense of disorientation. Her loss prompted a months-long reflection of my values, hopes, priorities, and what really matters to me. Gratitude, presence, and joy (like from dogs in my life) all became more pressing. The realization of how much a dog means to me helped me further identify those “small” things in life that are the most important to me, and what noise I want to tune out. The purity of dogs too always humbles me: makes me want to be a better person; someone more kind, more willing and enthusiastic, more attuned to others, more equanimous, more appreciative of and moved by the small things, more in love with life. The friendliness of dogs reminds me of the continued need for unconditional friendliness towards parts of myself.

I reflect too on our first family dog, Hershey, who I also absolutely adored and whose death broke me. He will always be my first love, and the love I felt for Holly was just different. As my parents prepare for a new canine addition, I look forward to exploring the relationship I will have with this pupper, and the joy and colour he or she will inevitably inject into my life. I am not able to control my excitement about this new best friend entering my world! So many snuggles, nose boops, and adventures to look forward to! I also look forward to being in a place in my near future, logistically, when I can rescue 1-37 doggos and give them the gift of my home, love, and annoying kisses waking them from their peaceful naps.

So, thank you to all the good boys and girls. Your goodness makes me feel my basic goodness and realize all that is good about this life. Thank you for reminding me what I love about being alive, and the gift of your existence. You are obviously not reading this, since you are, you know, a dog, but I’m sending out these grateful vibes anyway. I know you feel and sense a lot more than we realize.

Title lyric: You're My Best Friend (Queen)

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