Do dogs appreciate beauty? If so, how do they identify it? Classify it? Communicate it? All of these questions arise from one moment with an Airedale a few weeks ago.
I’ve been visiting Desert Rose and her pack mate Duke for more than two and a half years now. With the exception of Rose and Duke, the members of the pack change frequently. Sidney, the pack leader, coordinates Southwest Airedale Rescue in Southern Arizona and is often fostering at least one or two (or sometimes three!) Dales on their journey to forever homes.
Rose and Duke were both failed fosters and each suffered from significant injuries when they came to HardieDale Acres, as Sidney’s home is affectionately known. Rose suffered a broken left leg at a year old and still carries the titanium plate. As a result, her ability to flex her knee is severely limited.
This is not a dog you ask to sit before she gets a cookie. The sit is a very calculated maneuver for Rosie. First, there is the weight shift and proper positioning of all four paws. She rarely finds the magic spots on the first try, so patience is important. Next comes the tucking of the “good leg” (which had complicated knee surgery two years ago) under her body, where the right hip will catch most of the weight as gravity helps her down. She’s almost ready to let her weight fall onto the hip, but she uses her long Aire tail as a tripod to center herself. The final position isn’t pretty but effective.
When I first met Duke he was just two years old. He’d already survived Parvo, a lung infection, Valley Fever, and a hip dislocation that healed with little veterinary intervention. Duke is an orthopedic nightmare. He was bred as a slick-coated Airedale, but his DNA reveals a significant level of Dachshund in his heritage. Sidney’s labeled him her DoxieDale.
Duke was a little banged up from chasing javelinas on the fence line, so he went first during this particular session. After I finished working with him, I went in search of Rosie. She is usually in one of two places: in the comfy bed at the foot of Sidney’s bed or outside on the patio on a triple-thick layer of dog cushions. I rarely have to venture into the yard to find Rosie, but tonight was different. She’d chosen The Sandpile.
I maneuvered carefully around the creosote bushes in the early evening darkness, not knowing quite what qualified as The Sandpile in a desert landscape. As soon as I rounded the last bush and looked back to the East, I saw Rose and understood exactly why this was one of her favorite spots. The moon was full, a Harvest Moon, and Rosie was basking in its cool blue light.
Rose and I have a respectful relationship but there is never a question about who determines the depth and length of our sessions. She is often guarded but relaxed as I work with her. It’s a terrific session when I can convince her it’s safe to roll on her side to give me better access to the shoulder and hip muscles that often ail her.
Tonight as I rounded the bushes, the view brought me up short. I saw a side of Rosie I rarely see. She held a regal pose: back legs bent easily to the side, front legs stretched comfortably forward, her head up, ears laid back softly, chin lifted jauntily toward the beautiful orange moon. I imagined that her eyes were closed gently against the glow of the moon as she soaked up its wonderfully soft, clear light.
When Rosie realized (ok, acknowledged) that I was behind her, she turned slowly to look at me, her features still soft and relaxed. She was sharing an incredible moment with me. She was inviting me deeper into her world than she ever had before. Rosie turned back to the moon briefly as if to ask if I’d ever seen anything so beautiful. Then she looked back to me and slowly rolled onto her side. She was as much at peace as I’d ever seen her.
I savored the next few moments before I turned to head back to the house, hoping she would stay there long enough for me to grab a blanket to kneel on. She decided not to, so we had our session in the living room. It was one of our best sessions, physically and spiritually. I was able to reach and stretch muscles she hadn’t given me access to in months. And we shared a level of energy we’d never even approached before. This was the session I dream about, the one I strive for with every client. They are maddeningly elusive but electrifying when they appear.
Dogs recognize beauty in the world around them but I doubt its definition or its purpose are anything like ours. Every action a dog takes solves a problem and I could analyze Rose’s choices that evening and identify why she chose to lie in that spot. But why? Why not just recognize that in those few moments, our definitions of beauty were exactly the same and this allowed us to share in something special. I don’t need anything more than that.