Here comes my guide dog, head tilted, ears up. I know this even though she’s too far away to see. How do I know this? Because dogs stand between silence and words and their curiosity is always manifest. Dogs always say, “take nothing for your journey, travel light.” When a dog says “nothing” she means the absence of burdensome expectations.
Of course they say other things too. On the matter of expectation they have a robust familiarity. But no demand. That is their difference. For instance, in olfactory terms, a dog may say: “out here will be odors of live things, and a few dead things too.” But crossing the threshold expectation is missing—smell what comes, that’s the ticket.
I try to think of myself as a dog-man. The Dog-man is different from the man he used to be. He loves the moon, wind, old friends met by chance. He forgets his enemies though their smell reminds him to be cautious when necessary. You can count on the nose.
Another way to say it: dogs don’t worry about the soul, they just live it as the peaches live their fuzzy skins.
A lot of people say dogs make us human and who would sensibly argue the point? Those who work alone, hour after hour, know the good company of dogs. The bereaved who’ve survived scenes of great violence are reminded of unambiguous good when therapy dogs arrive and nuzzle. The shadow of a life grows small before the light of dogs. Dog lovers have always known how canines complete their lives and nowadays theorists like Brian Hare (who coined the word “dogology”) argue dogs possess empathy which they share in abundance with their human partners. We know dogs are smarter than we’ve previously imagined.
For the blind none of these ideas seems very surprising. Blindness, on a primary level, means living at one remove from the world, no matter how successful you are. A guide dog is not merely a helper in traffic, but an animal friend, close to the earth, beautiful, familiar, resilient, and strong. One can add confidence to empathy–a dog’s reliable faith can be shared with anyone, but especially the blind. Paired with a guide dog a blind person is back in the world, or, as was the case for me, is in the world for the first time.
Let us walk.