D. None of the Above: Our pets do as much, or more,...

D. None of the Above: Our pets do as much, or more, for us as we do for them

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

In tougher days before our son had a driver’s license and I had to pick him up from school, I brought the dog in the car. I’d see my son walking from school, head down, shoulders slumped, with the equivalent of a teenage angst enveloping him.

He’d get to the car, ready to throw himself into the seat next to me, to tell me his day was “fine” or that he “didn’t want to talk about anything,” and then he’d see the dog, wagging and prancing in the back seat and he was helpless against such charm and unbridled joy.

Our dog would throw his head into his hands, letting our son know that anything and everything our son did, particularly when he pet our dog’s ears, was welcome and appreciated.

While I know many people love puppies, with their fluffy fur and their playful demeanor, I have become increasingly attached and fond of our dog as he has aged.

And, as my wife has said, the feeling appears to be mutual.

When he was younger, our dog rarely came when I called him. He seemed fine with my petting him, but he didn’t go out of his way to get up from a comfortable nap.

But, then, something happened in the last year. Maybe it’s because we’ve traveled to visit family and friends for weddings and we haven’t taken him on each of our trips, or because he suddenly figured out that I feed him, provide water and take him for his necessary walks.

Whatever the case, he’s as happy to see me as I am to see him. At the same time, he’s become increasingly sensitive to the stress I’m feeling. When I get off the phone after an exasperating call with a customer service representative, he comes wagging over as if to say, “Yeah, that was annoying, but you’ll be fine and I’m still incredibly soft. Don’t you want to check?”

Recently, I contracted COVID-19. My wife, who hasn’t been feeling too well herself, took incredible care of me, picking up food and medicine while I shivered in bed and struggled to swallow through the razor blades dangling in the back of my throat.

In addition to the necessary and helpful support from my wife and brothers, I received encouragement from our dog, who seemed to recognize something was amiss. He came to the side of the bed and leaned his head into my hand. He put his paw up near my arm as well, wagging cautiously and looking into my eyes.

He reminded me of our dog from my childhood. Also, a golden retriever, our earlier dog raced to the kitchen door to be let out (yes, that was a different time). He used to return when he was ready and after he’d visited the neighbors and tended to his physical needs.

In my junior year of high school, I developed a migraine that limited my ability to see and gave me a horrific headache. At the same time, all physical contact was uncomfortable, from my friend touching my hand to guide me to the nurse to my mother escorting me to the car.

When I returned home, I lay in a dark room, miserable under the searing pain. The dog, who wasn’t used to having me home during the day, stayed in my room all day. He didn’t move or make a sound and, more amazingly, he never tried to touch my hand.

He finally went outside after I got up and felt better. He stood guard all those years ago, just as our pets do now, protecting us against strangers and offering support in our lowest and most emotionally vulnerable moments.