When I wake up, Dali is there to give me gentle, good-morning kisses. It’s like she’s re-establishing our connection after we’ve been apart while sleeping during the night. She reminds me of our in-born need to be securely attached. I coo at her and tell her good morning and how pretty she is. She turns over so I can rub her belly.
I treasure these moments because I know how important I am to her and I believe she knows how important she is to me.
It doesn’t matter if we were mad at each other the day before. Dali certainly has her way of letting me know she is not happy with me. And Dali can be so difficult at times; I get mad at her too. We always come back to the bond between us that trumps all else.
I’ve learned from Dali how important these kinds of rituals are in couple relationships. They help us to honor who we are to one another, particularly during our comings and goings. When I know my husband cares about me and he knows I care about him, we can get through the hardships of the day much easier and indulge more in the joys of life.
This is Dali (pronounced Dolly). We adopted her in 2005 when she was about 7 months old. And this is Oskar. We adopted Oskar in 2008 when he was about 3 months old.
Soon after we got Dali, we went to visit my parents. Dali made herself at home there and my parents loved her. One afternoon, my husband and I went out and left Dali with my parents. While we were gone, Dali followed my mom wherever she went. My mom went upstairs, Dali went upstairs. My mom went downstairs, Dali went downstairs. At some point, my mom couldn’t find Dali. She went all over the house, calling out for Dali, but Dali never barked. My mom remembered she had gone downstairs and put something in a walk-in closet and thought to look for Dali there. She checked the closet and sure enough, Dali was there.
Why hadn’t Dali barked to get help and let my mom know where she was?
It’s part of mammals’ and many other species’ instinctive behavior to call out for help. Dogs and people are similar that way. We need to know we will be responded to.
I believe Dali was taken from her mom and litter-mates when she was too young and ended up in a shelter, perhaps after being with a family for a short time. She, luckily, was rescued by a rescue organization and then she became a part of our family. So why would she bark, and call out for help? She hadn’t had the experience of someone responding to her needs.
I remember that something similar happened years later. Somehow, Dali got shut in the basement. This time, when I called out for her, she barked. I was thrilled because it meant that she trusted me to be there for her. Since being a part of our family, she had had enough experiences of us caring for her that she knew she was not alone in this world. She knew she could call for us and we would be there.
We all need that. We all need to know that when we are in need someone who is special to us will come for us when we call.
“We see you’re hurting, Mommy. And we care that you’re sad. We’re here for you.” That is the message I get when Dali and Oskar rush to lick my tears away whenever I’m crying. Their concern is very comforting. I do feel better receiving their caring contact. They sense my distress even if they are in another room and before you know it, they are there by my side.
There are times when I need to remind my husband not to try to fix things for me when I’m feeling vulnerable about something. I tell him I just need him to hold me and understand how I’m feeling.
And there are times I have to remind myself not to jump to solution-mode with other people. It can be difficult sometimes to sit with someone and be with them in their pain.
I’m reminded of the story of the four-year old boy whose next door neighbor, an elderly gentleman, recently lost his wife. When the young boy saw the man crying, he went over to him, climbed on his lap and sat there. After he returned home, the little boy’s mother asked him what he had said to their neighbor. Her son said, “Nothing. I just helped him cry.”
It doesn’t always take language to soothe. And in fact, sometimes words get in the way. I’ve learned from Dali and Oskar the power of presence. Putting my heart in to being there with someone’s experience is simple and pure and one of the best gifts I can give.
We all need support. Nervous Dogs sometimes just need to hold hands with their owners while riding in cars.