Crumbs in My Pocket

by Mike Smith

April 2020

Like most everyone, my life has been thrown out of balance.
Things have changed so rapidly, so profoundly, that I am having
difficulty taking it all in. I am both numbed and filled with raw
emotions that sit just beneath the surface. Some of these
emotions are good. Some, not so good. I want to say that
everything will be OK but that is not what I feel in my heart.
We are all feeling at least some financial distress. Some of us
are feeling it a lot. Some of us are at personal risk. All of us
have someone close to us at personal risk. It is difficult to see
how all of us will come through this period unscathed. I hope
that I am wrong.
We are fortunate to have our dogs. They give us comfort. They
give us normalcy. They give us a distraction from this situation
that we find ourselves in. They give us everything that they
have. And then they give us some more. No social distancing
allowed.
I look forward to the other side of this pandemic, to the time that
we can once again hug and high five and congregate with
abandon. Until then, please be good to yourselves and please be
good to one another. Keep your hearts open to your dogs and let
them work their magic.

March 2020

My dog has a voice. She must have telepathic powers because I
can hear it in my head. Her voice has a certain raspy quality that
makes her sound earnest and childlike, but she is neither
innocent nor naive. She never curses. She never gets angry.
She is never deceitful or spiteful or petty. She is mostly patient
and polite and poised. Come to think about it, her voice is quite
different from her bark.

We don’t really have conversations. She just has an occasional
observation that she wants to share. Sometimes she chides me.
Sometimes she corrects me. More often she comforts me or
encourages me or simply makes me laugh.

My dog is also a ventriloquist. She alternates between using me
and using my wife as her dummy. When she uses us to speak
out loud, she does not use her own voice. She uses our voices,
only at a higher pitch. It is amazing how she helps us
communicate with one another.

Some will say that this is just a lot of nonsense, that dogs lack
voices and that they certainly do not communicate like humans
do. While this is true, it misses the point. Yes, dogs don’t need
voices to speak. They talk with their body postures, their
gestures and movements. They talk with their barks and their
whimpers and growls. Nevertheless, my dog has a voice. She
has a voice because I have given it to her. By giving her a voice,
I am connecting with my dog. By giving her a voice, I am
committing to my dog. By giving her a voice, I am confirming
her importance in my life. My dog does indeed have a voice. It
is a thing of beauty.

February 2020

Do dogs love us? They need us. They use us. But do they love
us?
We tend to project our own traits onto dogs. Human thoughts,
human motivations, human emotions. This tendency has a fancy
name: anthropomorphism. We anthropomorphize dogs all the
time. We have conversations with them. We dress them up in
costumes. We give them birthday parties, for heaven’s sake.
When we angrily look into the eyes of a misbehaved dog, we see
guilt. When we tenderly look into the eyes of our own dog, we
see . . . love?

Clear eyed dog trainers will tell you that anthropomorphism will
get you nowhere with a dog. Dogs are not humans and view the
world in a different way. That love that we see in the eyes of
our dog may be nothing more than an opportunistic reflection of
our own love in a mirror of our own making. Still, even the
most hardened dog trainer will admit that dogs feel emotions.
Fear. Happiness. Excitement. But love?

There are many colors of human love. Whatever the color, love
is love. It causes a chemical reaction that leaves little doubt.
Human love activates the release of a hormone called oxytocin.
Research has established that dogs also have oxytocin and that it
releases into their systems when they interact with their humans.
So is that love or simply anticipation of the next meal?

Perhaps it depends on the dog. Perhaps it depends on the
human. Perhaps each of us has our own unique answer. My
answer does not involve the word “yes” and does not involve the
word “no”. The answer that I prefer invokes a quote from the
lyrics of a somewhat quirky, somewhat haunting song called
Nature Boy.

     The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
     is just to love
    and be loved in return.

January 2020

As we tumble along into a new decade, I have been thinking a
lot about the passage of time. Time is a dichotomy. It wears the
face of hope and opportunity. It also wears the face of loss and
decay. Time cuts to the bone with cruel determination. It also
refreshes and regenerates and heals. Time is a matter of
perspective. The more optimistic you are, the friendlier it
seems.
I have reached a stage in my life where some measure of
pessimism is in order. Instead, I am feeling increasingly
optimistic. I believe that my dog is at least partially responsible
for this. My dog is almost always optimistic. This may be
because she has little regard for the passage of time. Although
she has a keen memory and the ability to apply previous
experience to the current situation, she does not think about the
past as such. As far as I can tell, my dog does not have regrets
or hold resentments. Similarly, while she can anticipate future
events based on current activity, my dog does not spend time
worrying about the future. Instead, she is centered on the
present. My dog wakes up happy every morning. She goes to
bed happy every night. Living with her example, how could I
not feel more optimistic?
Entering the 2020’s, I will continue to think about the past and
plan for the future. However, I will also resolve to devote more
of my energy to the present, just like my dog. Just like my dog,
I will try to think less about the passage of time