As Kathy mentioned in her guest post, Travis is struggling. And, quite frankly, so are we. We’re both very aware of how sensitive Harley is to our moods so we try to keep the tears, frustration and fears in check while we’re at home. Ironically, Travis seems blissfully unaware of our tension and even of his own condition. He has his blinders on (literally and figuratively). He’s focused on moving from one bed to another, breakfast, dinner, snacks, pee breaks and his walks. And belly rubs. Travis shows no emotion otherwise. His eyes tell no tales. His tail is still. He is a stoic old hound.
Harley, though, has his eyes wide open. And it’s what makes him a terrific therapy dog. When we returned home from our eventful x-ray excursion, Kathy and I got Travis settled in and comfortable. We couldn’t hold it any longer. Kathy sat in the puffy oversized chair and I on the ottoman and we wept. We knew his prognosis was poor when the liver cancer was found four months ago. We knew it would metastasize late but quickly. But we weren’t prepared for what we believe is the beginning of the last stage. The blue tongue, the difficulty breathing, the panic. We didn’t want Travis to experience any of that again. He wasn’t ready now, but the time was coming. Soon.
As we sat working through this difficult process, Harley joined us. He approached with his ears down, softly pressed against his head and his tail wagging low and slow. His eyes were soft, with a knowing look of concern. He looked at me then dipped his head slowly. He turned to Kathy, and gently nuzzled her cheek and neck with his stubbly-soft muzzle. The instant Kathy smiled, he became more playful, licking her tears and wagging his tail faster and higher. Harley turned to me and gave me an ornery kiss, one that got teeth. He went back to Kathy and finished the tear-licking on the other side of her face then rested his head briefly on her shoulder for a hug. She wrapped her arms around him and her face lit up.
His displays of empathy never cease to amaze me. His grasp of human emotion is fascinating, even in the moment. As he enveloped Kathy in his warm, damp blanket of caring, I caught myself wondering how he does it. Is it his ability to decipher body language? Is it scent-driven? How much of it is based on what he sees or hears? How is he so tuned into what we need and why does he give it so freely?
I guess it’s not important to know how or why he does it, but rather to accept it graciously and thank him for his kindness. And that’s what we did.