Nessie, my 7-month-old chocolate Labrador Retriever puppy, gave me a lesson this morning and asked me to pass it along.
Love Is A Contact Sport
That’s what she said. Oh, not in so many words but she gets the point across. She’s learned that I’m going to be writing every day (long puppy sigh) but that doesn’t let me off the hook.
After all, what’s so important about that computer anyway? It doesn’t love me or play with me or lick my face. But if cruel fate has made her human a writer who confines himself to that box of buttons like it’s a cage, that doesn’t mean she has to suffer.
So, she interrupts, politely but insistently. She will bring me a toy and nuzzle me. She will use my leg as a step, calf first and then thigh, to reach my face and smell me or check out what’s on the table.
I just had to stop and throw her orange tennis ball. It was enough. She’s now chewing the hide off of it on the love seat.
If all else fails and I’m in that annoying writer zone, she will curl up at my feet. But it’s not to be respectful of her mighty master’s exulted position. No, it’s so she can lay on my foot and maintain contact.
Feet are good
Shoes are okay. Socks are better. Barefoot is best and as smelly as possible. It’s a dog thing.
Nessie spreads her foot love around. She will lay on Suzie’s feet. When she’s chewing a toy, she will use my mom’s foot as a prop to get just the right angle. There’s a perfect spot in the back of her jaw that makes her eyes close with a blissful expression.
I’m not sure what that’s about.
I tried to shoo Nessie away from Mom’s feet but she was insistent. And Mom said,”That’s okay. It’s kind of nice.” After that I left them alone.
That’s not the term Nessie uses. She prefers the word pack. And packs stay together. That’s the number one rule.
They sleep together, on top of one another if possible but on a foot if not. They roll together, windows down if possible. They eat together, and separate plates are not required.
Packs stay in contact. They touch each other.
We do it all with words. You and I are in contact right now with a few letters on a screen. But Nessie doesn’t have words, so she does what she knows. Even if it gets her in trouble sometimes.
I know a doctor who touches every patient he visits – on the toe – because we humans have to be careful who, where and how we touch. It can start a lawsuit. But we still crave contact.
Hand shakes, back pats and hugs. Or for guys that combo handshake/half-hug thing. Or if you’re in sports a butt slap may be acceptable. Nessie prefers ear scratches and tummy rubs.
So when the doc visits a room where a patient may have been alone, unvisited and untouched for far too long, he grabs their toe when he says hello. It’s there at the foot of the bed, handy, so to speak. It’s easier than a handshake for patients skewered with I.V.s and tubes. It’s personal but non-threatening.
And they love it. Patients light up when he walks in. A touch makes them feel human, like they’re not a science experiment gone wrong, like they are not a horrifying pile of tubes and bad hair, like they are still worthy of touching.
Dr Eric Raefsky, Suzie’s oncologist, always hugs her. But then they’ve been through a lot together. And he knows about packs. At last count there were sixteen rescue dogs at his house.
That’s the advantage a therapy dog has. He can hop into bed with you, lick your face, nuzzle you in places no one else would dare and never get sued. It’s pure contact unsullied by human flaws.
It says I love you. You’re awesome. You smell great. Nice hair. Touch me. Scratch me there!
It says you are valuable. And you are. The stories of therapy dogs healing powers are numerous.
Touch someone – carefully
So, if you don’t have a pack, get one.
If you don’t have a dog, borrow one.
If you need a hug, ask for one.
They might even stop typing for a second and throw you a tennis ball.
I just did.
Photo by Dennis Ritchie
Note – Nessie did this as I was proofing this post.