As many of my readers know, my dog, Gus, is my muse.
One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how Gus is over-the-moon excited to begin each day. He waits for any movement (often around 4 a.m.) and starts to get excited. If I am not ready, he tries to wait.
But it is hard for him, because, he knows, he just knows, that today is going to be the most awesome day, ever.
Once I awaken, he can no longer contain his excitement, twirling rapidly, running around, often in circles, going up and down the stairs (even with his heart condition); just so excited that today has finally arrived.
For Gus, life is joy.
And that joy is meant to be shared. On our walks, Gus encounters each stranger with the assumption that the stranger wants to pet him. He hovers for a few minutes, giving them every chance to take advantage of his affectionate nature. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t, but he waits patiently in front of them, until they decide.
Because Gus sees humanity in every human.
Including the homeless. It doesn’t matter how dirty, angry, unkempt, or hirsute they are. Some homeless use their appearance and expressions to keep us away.
But all Gus sees is a person who might need some affection. And many actually do. A pat on the head to Gus almost always elicits a smile. Gus stays until they are done and then walks back. The stranger, a stranger no more, smiles. His hidden humanity exposed.
One of the most profound demonstrations of Gus’s capability was at the dog park in Key West. A homeless man chose to spend every day at the dog park, sitting on a bench. He sported a long dirty beard to match his unkempt appearance. He scowled as we entered the park and kept his head down, muttering.
Gus would have none of that. He went over the bench and waited patiently by the man’s side. It took less than a week before the man reached down to pet the 12-pound fluffy white dog. Gus snuggled with him until the man was done and trotted back to me. Every day, Gus came over and as the days progressed their time together grew longer. The man would call Gus as soon as he saw him. It took only a couple of weeks before the man was talking to everyone. Other dogs started to come over and people began to share a smile or a commence a light conversation. Within a couple of months, he was clean shaven, washed, and every morning he waited for that little soft fluffy white dog to come over and gaze at him with his soft doe-eyes. When I returned to Key West the next year, the man was gone; I hope he found a home.
It happened again recently. A man who walked with this head down was no match for Gus. After Gus weaved his magic, we now smile and greet each other.
Last week I was in the supermarket when I noticed an elderly woman having difficulty with her groceries. I came to her aid. It took no longer than a couple of minutes to help her; and afterwards, I felt a euphoria. It is called the Helper’s high. And it is an amazing feeling.
I may have stumbled upon one of Gus’s secrets.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.