For the last several years Dora and I have spent Good Friday attending the doggie social event of the year – the NSD’s annual Easter Egg Hunt for dogs. It’s a wonderful morning where slightly crazy dog people, extremely excited pups, and sugar-logged kiddies collectively run up a mud soaked hill to find brightly coloured plastic eggs filled with mini MilkBones – all in the name of raising money to provide service dogs to children with autism. The people laugh and yell and run. The dogs smell and pee and generally look confused. It’s a riot of furry fun – after which Dora and I stumble home and share some quality snuzzle time in the form of a fresh air induced nap.
When I attend events such as these I tend to have a piddling of an epiphany about how my dog’s social life is much more vibrant than mine. Like A LOT more vibrant. Dora is a people person. She’s the first one to run up to a stranger, plop her furry behind at their feet and look straight up at them with her glistening “can’t say no to me” puppy eyes. (Seriously, where did she learn to flash her eyes like that – is that a hidden curriculum in puppy school?) When visitors come over Dora will greet them with a tail wag that rivals that of a prop plane propeller running at full speed. She will happily bring anyone her squeak toys to share in the simple joy of their existence, after which she will worm her way up onto the couch to claim the warm spot within a paws reach of the intended cuddle “victim”. It’s adorably cute and always inclusive. She rarely discriminates without good reason – all are friends in Dora’s eyes. What’s not to love, right?
When I worked as a Residence Life Coordinator at a medium sized university, Dora was permitted to live in residence with me. It wasn’t uncommon for her to see a couple of hundred people every day. She became the mascot of sorts for the buildings under my supervision. Students would play with her in the green space outside; some of my staff would take her for long walks (or as they called them “brain breaks”) on the nearby trails. When Dora would hang out in my office with me, people would venture in without even acknowledging my existence and just silently sit on the floor next to her; the essence of a purely emotional connection in my eyes – and a sacred space that I would always respect. It got to the point, in fact, that anytime I would walk across campus with Dora in tow choruses of “Hi Dora!” would ring through the air. Everyone seemed to know who my dog was – me, not so much. Dora even developed a slight “look at me” swagger, holding her head and tail high as she strutted around campus. It was hilarious and lovable and made me chuckle all the time. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The extent to which my dog’s social life had expanded became crystal clear to me about a year ago when I found myself staring at the calendar trying to arrange some “woofie walk” dates for Dora and my friend’s dog. “I’m arranging play dates for my dog” was the solitary thought I had in my brief moment of clarity. Flipping to my own social calendar, it became painfully obvious how barren it was – work shifts, writing deadlines, and course work dominated the days. Dare I say in that moment I became slightly envious of my dog, the little shit.
For those that aren’t aware, Dora is also a certified therapy dog. I attribute her therapy work as the start of her social infiltration. At the age of three, and shortly after she passed her therapy dog evaluation, her and I started making our therapy rounds in the community. We visited hospitals and nursing homes, schools and libraries, youth centers and treatment facilities. We’ve been featured in news articles, magazines, a documentary, and even on a radio show (perhaps a first for a dog???) Dora even developed her own “canine clique” within the therapy dog community -similar to those who participate in extra-curricular activities sometimes do. In fact, its gotten to the point that I must arrange”outside therapy time” outings with certain therapy dogs just so they can have the opportunity to play, sniff, and romp. It’s a regular canine circus.
As much as I may joke that Dora’s social life is astronomically better than mine, which it clearly is, when it comes to the fine print, she and I are a team. Arranged puppy play dates and therapy dog excursions are making me more social too. Even on days when my introverted side becomes too difficult to reason with, if I’ve made a commitment to take Dora somewhere, those who are looking forward to her visit, and even Dora herself, will lull me out of whatever anti-social funk I may be in. And I know I’m a better person for it.
I guess dogs really do make us more human.