I still remember being nervous the first weekend I spent at Megan’s house. She’d come down and spent weekends with me, so it didn’t have anything to do with whether the closeness would be a new test for us in our long distance relationship.
No, the nervousness had to do with whether I would get along with her beloved Basset Hounds, Samson and Delilah. I’ve always viewed pets, particularly dogs, as a surprisingly good barometer of people. If a dog who usually showers people with love is hesitant around someone, it’s usually a sign that something’s up; I therefore hoped this wouldn’t be the case with me.
Fortunately, my worries were unnecessary. Within a few minutes of being around these two, they had accepted me, and I felt as if I were a member of the family.
Delilah, alas, has slipped this mortal coil, but Samson lives on, and greets me heartily whenever I come to visit. Then, when I sit down, he engages in a ritual that has become a key part of my visit: he starts to swat my shin with his paw.
He is doing this, of course, to quietly demand that I sit on the floor. At this point, he throws himself down and rolls on his back, offering his belly for scratches and rubs.
I know that Samson is, of course, doing this for his own benefit, but I can’t help but think that he is doing this for me as well.
There is something about scratching a dog’s belly that borders on the mystical. It is true, of course, of cats as well, for when a cat lets you scratch its belly, it is telling you that you have earned its trust. With a dog, the offering seems subtly different; it is as if the dog is not only telling you that you have earned its trust, but that you need to relax, and surrender yourself to its methods of stress reduction.
I notice that Samson often swats my shin when I am stressed out. I will be in the middle of some unhealthy pattern of thinking, and I’ll feel Samson’s gentle tap on my shin. Then I look down, into those Basset Hound eyes, and realize that yes, Samson has once again tuned into my feelings, and seeks to offer comfort and support.
It reminds me a bit of the therapy dogs who help soldiers with PTSD. Often, these soldiers will talk about times that they are on the verge of having panic attacks, and how the dogs just seem to know that these folks need their valuable services. Samson is the same way; when I’m feeling stressed or down, there he is, a gentle reminder of all that is important and good in the world.
Perhaps, with his extraordinary sense of smell (Bassets are second only to bloodhounds in this area) he is able to somehow pick up on the stress with this gift. There is a purpose to the way he swats my shin, as if he knows that his services are needed. Consequently, when I feel that swat on my shin, I know that he is giving me a call that I must answer.
For answering that call is always a gift not just to him, but to me as well. To do this is to dance on the head of a pin with a band of angels. It is to remember that above all, the most important thing in life is to be in the moment, and that there is comfort and joy in love, contact, and, above all a good belly rub.