The caramel-colored corgi spotted me walking toward the city-run recreation center. Out for a walk with his person, the little dog stopped in his tracks and fixed me in his gaze. The woman on the end of his leash tried to move him along, but he wouldn't budge.
He stood his ground, waiting for me to approach him. I bent down and opened my palm for him to sniff, talking softly to him. He licked my hand and fingers eagerly, and enjoyed having his head rubbed and ears scratched.
Only then would he consent to being lead away by his owner. Slightly embarrassed and certainly bewildered, she didn't seem to understand what just transpired, but I did. That sharp little canine intuitively sensed that I could use some affection and comfort, and did his best to offer it to me.
I felt better immediately and will appreciate that compassionate pooch for the rest of my days.
Animals show us all the time how to love. They constantly offer up true love--the unconditional kind so simple that we so-called intelligent beings simply don't trust it, convinced that love surely must be complex, unfathomable, and scarce.
What a pity we don't pay more attention to our animal teachers. The few times we do, it's an even greater tragedy that we generally don't understand the lesson.
Take the tale of Oscar, a feline supervisor at a Rhode Island hospice care unit. The tabby cat made national headlines when his story was posted on the website of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Then there was Scamp, an adopted canine with similar duties at a Canton, Ohio, nursing home. Like Oscar, Scamp the schnauzer always seemed to know when a resident of his facility was close to death.
We didn't know what to make of the animals' abilities to predict and indicate imminent death or their love for the dying person. Idiotic, fear-laden headlines yammered on about "ominous talent" and "first grim cat, now grim dog."
How tragic that death holds such terror for us, and we are so divorced from our spiritual natures, that we react to the love--the compassion and empathy--shown by animals with fear, distrust, and even a tinge of loathing.
By easing both the dying and their loved ones through the transition erroneously known as death, Scamp and Oscar show us the meaning of love as well as how to love.
The animals' presence at a resident's bedside alerts staff to contact the patient's family in time for them to say their good-byes. Doing so provides a tremendous amount of comfort to the dying person's loved ones. And for those without family able to arrive in time, Oscar and Scamp make sure that none of those they watch over dies alone.
Science, naturally, provides theories about how animals can sense impending death. These explanations focus on chemical smells, called pheromones, that animals can detect but elude human nostrils.
Pheromones may well be at work, but that does not exclude another interpretation of these events. The dying most often are comatose, unconscious, or too far in mental collapse to be aware of the animals' presence by what we consider normal methods. They cannot use the physical senses to see them, hear them, or feel the animals' fur or slight weight next to them.
Even unconscious, however, the dying are still capable of sensing and benefiting from the vibration of love. Detecting love's presence is a gift of the spirit that precedes physical life and remains once it is over because it is the essence of the energy-spirits that we are. Love does not depend on physical life or physical senses to exist and be given or received.
And surely it is love that Oscar and Scamp are giving those at death's door, and love that the little corgi offered me. True love that makes no demands, imposes no conditions, sets no restrictions.
All of us long for that kind of love, and we need not wait for it until the end of our physical lives. It's available to us right now, if only we open our hearts and souls to the animal teachers all around us, willing to show the living as well as the dying the way to love.