I've learned a lot about love from two of the unlikeliest of teachers: my dogs. It's strange to think of learning anything from someone so spectacularly unintelligent--you know, the type of creature that regularly knocks loose parts of the house by ramming them with their heads. Or the type that becomes so terrified by the scent of our cats that they've been permanently banned from the living room due to, shall we say, "excessive leakage." But the truth is, my dogs offer one of the most powerful lessons in love I've found, and all I have to do to study it is glance out the back window--the one they've been enthusiastically flinging their bodies against ever since I walked in the front door.
My wife and I adopted Charlie first: a yellow lab on his way to the animal shelter because his first family was overwhelmed by his taste for shoes and his high energy (gas molecules have less activity). And yes, this was the selling point on which we took him. Charlie quickly developed a reputation with the neighbors for his daring escapes from our fenced back yard, so it was no surprise when we came home one weekday to find two of our neighbors sitting on our steps with a hungry and exhausted yellow lab. The actual surprise came when we learned Charlie was still in the backyard and that we'd mistakenly taken ownership of an identical dog. After a few months of searching for an owner, the dog we dubbed Chloe became part of the family.
Admittedly, it can be frustrating having two large centers of renewable energy living in the backyard. They eat lawn furniture (even the plastic kind), they unearth plants, they tear lattice from the porch walls, and the glass back door is now completely opaque due to muddy paw prints. They feel the need to alert us at 4 in the morning every time somebody sneezes two blocks away. The backyard is a scatological minefield when mowing the grass, and birds--yes, birds--have been unanimously declared the greatest enemy of the Kenyon household.
But here's the difference between the dogs and me. Yeah, they can be annoying at times. But I'm certain there are things I do that drive them just as crazy. I don't play with them enough, I pop them on the nose when they jump, once or twice they've missed a meal, I allow cats in the house, and I recently picked up the saxophone again. But their unrestrained joy to have me in their lives remains unconditional.
Even if I only give them five minutes of tossing a slobbery tennis ball around the yard, they can't imagine a happier reality. These two live for me. They wait from sunrise to sundown just for the possibility of a scratch behind the ears and a kind word. They instinctively know when I'm hurt or upset and they become overwhelmingly concerned. And on one frightening night, they thwarted a burglar trying to break into our house, even after the guy repeatedly kicked and injured them. In fact, neighbors spotted Chloe, who is usually afraid of men, a full three blocks away pursuing our would-be burglar.
I can't even accuse them of loving me just for the food. Charlie, in particular, is so excited every time I walk outside that I have to lock him on the back porch with his bowl of Ol' Roy just so he'll remember to eat. And let me tell you, when a guy of any species puts seeing you over filling his stomach, you know you're dealing with true love.
That's the thing about Charlie and Chloe--they don't know how not to love. I've always believed that love was more than a feeling (thank you, Boston). It's a decision, a mindset that reveals itself not with a card and chocolates just a couple days out of the year, but in the reactions and small sacrifices every other day. Love is accepting that the other person in your life is fallible, that they're going to make mistakes, or forget to feed you, or pop you on the nose, or yell at you for protecting the house against birds--but you love them, anyway.
So that's my goal: to love the way my dogs love, to be happier in the presence of that one special person than I am anywhere else in the world, and to show that affection with complete and utter abandon. It's possible that my wife might freak out a little if I start flinging myself at the door when she gets home from work, but I'm sure I'll find other ways.
After all, there's a lot to be learned out that back window.