The other day, I received the following e-mail:
Last year I struggled a lot with running. One early morning I ran from Kfar-Etsion towards Sde-Boaz. Around 6 AM I was climbing Neve-Daniel and thinking seriously to give up. The streets were empty except for one woman walking very slowly with a dog. She seemed very weak and I wasn’t even sure if this was Stella. Usually in such occasions I feel uncomfortable to run, but she just gave me a big smile and Boker-Tov greeting. I felt very clearly in this simple act, her great empathy which gave me the strength to continue on (I hope you do have a dog so my story could be considered as yet another small evidence…)
And now the rest of the story:
Before Stella got sick, she used to wake up extremely early to go walk our dog. Often during the winter this was before the sun came up. No matter what the weather, she would throw on a big coat and take her out. Sometimes they would walk to Sde Boaz. It’s a trail at a very high elevation and often the wind alone can be bitingly cold. But she didn’t care, all year round, every day she and the dog would go out, sometimes seeing the guys going to the 5:45 minyan and the bread truck dropping off deliveries at the makolet. But no one else was usually crazy enough to be out at that hour.
A note about our dog. Bailey is a huge white Labrador mix. We joke that there is definitely some polar bear in her ancestry due to her size and love of cold weather. One thing is for sure, Stella and Bailey really loved each other. Usually Bailey is the gentlest of dogs — as long as we tell her that someone is a “chever” (friend) she will be very welcoming. If she feels any of us are threatened, she can turn surprisingly ferocious until I tell her to back off. She is amazing with children and many of the kids in Neve Daniel get very excited to see her.
Her favorite activity is chasing cats. If anyone besides myself is walking her, I tell them to just drop the leash if she sees a cat. Otherwise they will be pulled along on a wild ride. She will chase the cat, cat will go up a tree or under a car, and Bailey will return, satisfied that she has protected Neve Daniel from these evil creatures.
Soon after Stella got sick, she was not strong enough to take Bailey on these walks. That, like many things, became my job. And since Bailey enjoyed getting up early, she would scratch at the door and bark to make sure I got up at dawn.
But every now and then, I would wake up a little late and find the bed empty. Sure enough dog and leash were missing. When they came back from their little sneaky escape, Stella (with a mischievous smile) would tell me that she really wanted me to get some more sleep. That I was doing too much for her and I should have a break. I, of course, would be terrified that Bailey would see the cat and knock Stella right over in her extremely underweight state.
But Bailey knew who was walking her. She would walk slowly by Stella’s side and look after her nervously the same way I would when Stella and I would take walks. If you are not a dog owner, you won’t believe this, but dogs can form uncanny connections with people. They can sense things that human beings cannot.
A few nights before Stella passed away, Rivka came to tell me that Bailey was fast asleep and crying. Sure enough, for the last three days, when Bailey slept, she would cry out in her sleep. It was the most mournful thing you ever heard. She somehow knew that Stella, her friend, was dying and like all the rest of us, she cried.
So now Bailey and I are fast friends and we go for plenty of walks. Walking her is one of the best forms of therapy I have discovered. She knows my moods and knows to come close and sit with me when I am just overwhelmed with sadness. If you see me walking her and I’m listening to music, you can smile at us but try not to interrupt our time. That is between Bailey and me.
And just as she knows when I am sad, I know when she is missing Stella. It shows in her eyes.
She also is able to comfort the kids. When any of us come home, the first thing we get is a big wag of the tail, a smile, and a message that no matter how we are feeling, she is there for us. During almost the entire shiva week, she sat quietly by my side and petting her made it a little easier to talk about Stella.
Once again, unless you know dogs you won’t believe all this. But dog owners, don’t you agree that dogs can really communicate feelings and empathize?