Friskie has not been a happy dog lately. When I come home from work, she no longer jumps up excitedly. She doesn’t wag her tail or bark happily. Instead, she just continues to lie on her large brown puppy pillow. She just glances up at me as I walk into the room. Her big brown puppy dog eyes plead sadly with me for just a moment. Then she lowers her head back down, rolls over, and goes back to sleep. I stare at her for just a moment and think about all the fun we used to have together. Friskie and I became fast friends when I first moved into my brother and sister-in-law’s home. I considered Friskie my first real friend when I returned to Kansas from California. The dog and I used to wrestle around the living room together. We used to play tug of war with her toys. Any of the toy I would toss across the room, she would fetch and bring back to me with her little tail waggling and laughter glowing in her eyes. We used to cuddle and laugh together in bed at night before drifting off to sleep.
But now, she is silent and still. I think she is depressed. She is sad; sorrow is reflected in her eyes and joy no longer radiates off of her sweet, furry, brown and white face. She whimpers for a moment now and then settles down and goes back to sleep. And though she can’t tell me in words, I know why she cries. I know why she is upset, but I can’t really do anything about it right now. I tried to explain the situation to her with gentle, loving words, but, of course, she doesn’t have any idea what I am trying to tell her.
“Friskie,” I try to reason with her as I stand across the room from her fluffy puppy pillow. “I love you but I can’t pet or cuddle with you right now. I can’t take you into bed with me. I’ve been so sick.”
And it was the truth, but I don’t think Friskie believes me anymore. I had been working a lot of additional hours over the last few weeks, and though I was tired, I was feeling good….until last Tuesday. Tuesday morning, I awoke feeling good until suddenly my stomach began to twist around in circles and I found myself in the bathroom hoping that my suddenly queasiness and vomiting would pass quickly. Even though, I felt better after a few minutes, I was still feeling achy, dehydrated, and exhausted for the rest of the day. That was just the beginning. For the next five days, I was horribly sick with flu-like symptoms. I continued to cough, sneeze, and vomit. I suffered from diarrhea, nausea, and horrible prolonged headaches. My muscles ached and I felt unable to control my movements. In the middle of summer, I was freezing and couldn’t seem to get warm. I was shivering horribly and yet would get up from the bed to find my pajamas and the sheets soaked with sweat. I had absolutely no energy, mainly because I couldn’t eat anything. Even the thought of food made me feel nausea and queasy. I stayed completely behind the closed door of my room, only stepping out when I needed to use the bathroom.
As I struggled to heal, I stayed away from the sweet family pets. I didn’t want to get any of the dogs or the cat sick. I don’t know if the animals could catch any viruses from me but I didn’t want to take that chance. I was too exhausted to deal with the animals. I was too hot to cuddle with the dogs who are covered in hot, sticky fur. I left the animals completely alone…and I think I hurt Friskie’s feelings. Though the other animals seemed to understand and take the situation in stride, Friskie looked hurt and upset. She seemed to be lonely and sad. I don’t think she could understand why I had turned my back on her after we had been so close. A few nights, I could hear her tapping her little paws down the hallway and coming to a stop right in front of my bedroom. I would lie in bed fully awake as I listened to her scratch at my door. Then my heart would break as I heard the dog start to whimper and cry to be let into the room. I tried to ignore her. I didn’t want to be around the tiny dog while I was so sick. I really wanted to open the door, but I couldn’t pull my achy body out of bed. My muscles just would not respond. I couldn’t get up and walk to the door. So I lay in bed and listened to my lovely furry friend crying for most of the night. I wanted to call out to her to soothe her, but didn’t want to risk waking up the rest of the family. As bad as I was feeling, hearing the dog cry made me feel even worse. But there was nothing that I could do about it.
Finally, slowly, after five long days, I began to get back on my feet by Sunday morning. Though I was still weak, I began to feel better and was finally able to get out of bed and move around a little. But now, Friskie wanted nothing to do with me. For days, I had ignored her. For days, I had not played with her or pet her. For days, I locked her out of my room and refused to cuddle with her. I had broken her little puppy heart and now she was done with me. She wasn’t happy to see me when I walked into the room. She wasn’t excited or playful even as I grabbed some of her toys and tossed them across the room. She just stared at me, her little doggy eyes watching me closely and suspiciously as I walked across the room and retrieved her toys myself. I held them out to her but she refused to take them. She had been my best friend and I had let her down. She no longer trusted me.
I felt as if I had just lost my best friend and I couldn’t even begin to explain to her what had happened. I wanted to just grab and cuddle with her, but she would wiggle away from me. She refused my offers of food and comfort. We ignored each other for several days, both of us with broken hearts and not sure how to fix this situation without the ability to talk out our feelings. I began to realize that I would just have to be patient. I had to let Friskie slowly come to trust me again at her own pace. I didn’t force her to be with me.
And slowly, it began to happen.
Finally, on Wednesday, the fourth day of recovery, I sat on the living room couch with my nose in the book and pretending that I wasn’t concerned about the dog. I tried not to make any sudden moves as I realized that Friskie was slowly climbing up onto the large square padded ottoman where I had my feet comfortably placed. Friskie stopped for a moment and stared at my stockinged feet. Slowly she reached out her paw and patted the top of my foot before quickly pulling away. I put my book down and we stared at each other for a moment. Once more, Friskie reached out and patted my foot. As I looked up at her again, she seemed to smile shyly at me for a moment. I turned back to my book. Friskie slowly climbed up and used my legs as a bridge to cross over to the couch. Tentatively, she climbed until she was cuddled in my lap. I wrapped my arms around the dog slowly and cuddled her close as she playfully licked at my hands and fingers. Then she nestled in close to my chest as she settled down to sleep. After having her heartbroken, she had started to trust me again. Over time, Friskie started to come into my room again. She sits on my lap as I work on the computer. She cuddles in bed with me at night. I don’t know if she will ever know that she was turned away because I was sick. I don’t know if she will ever understand the reason that she had been so rejected. But regardless of the reason, she has trusted me again. She is loving me again without question. She is putting her heart on the line one more time in order to feel and know love. Friskie, like so many other animals, has returned to love me without question or without asking for anything in return.
Why are humans the only creatures on earth that have to make love so complicated? Love should be pure, giving, kind…love should be without question…love should be trusting and understanding…love should be the willingness to have your heartbroken. I want to love as purely and simply as animals do. Too bad all my relationships aren’t this forgiving, this loving, this kind…maybe I need to learn to trust when I want to run, to love when I want to fight, to give when I just want to take. To love without fear or ego…and maybe God put animals on earth to teach us about unconditional love.