I suspect it may be the reason most dogs keep us around. We can drive cars … and trucks and motorhomes and motorcycles. And, as a result, we can seemingly create the very wind itself.
To the senses of dogs riding in cars, I suspect it seems we can also somehow make all the best smells float on the air at once, with a cacophony of new and familiar sounds intertwined and changing every few seconds. We magically bring farms with fields of horses into view before they dash past us with glorious speed. We find new people to watch walking and riding bikes, and other dogs to call out to playing in yards. And we can rush past and beyond them all with great authority and intentionality.
I suspect that dogs riding in cars instinctively understand the importance of these experiences and living in the moment with abandon. I suspect they also rather rejoice in the sense of the forbidden there is about it, the little bit of naughtiness, the slightly dangerous freedom of it all.
Earlier today I was making my weekly trip out to the grocery store and post office, the necessary dash in and out of places, wearing masks, keeping distances, hurrying home to solitary safety. And I began to notice the dogs riding in cars around me (my own in the backseat). Their absolute joy and appreciation of it was so evident, it made me project their obvious feelings of freedom and release onto our human condition – both current and slowly returning.
I am quite convinced that for myself at least, it has been my dog and cat that have kept me relatively sane throughout this time of isolation. Dog Quincy has insisted on maintaining the rhythm of our morning walks regardless of the weather. Both of them have entertained me with their goofy senses of humor, made me curious with their own curiosity about squirrels and bugs and bird nests and new neighbors. Quincy has kept me social with other dog walkers, compassionate by his insistence to knock on doors and sit on porches with those unable to get out at all, healthier by urging the rougher terrain in the woods – the paths less taken, and wiser by far by forgiving my moods, not questioning my tears or spontaneous barefoot dancing on the kitchen floor, both just because no one was watching.
Both dog Quincy and cat Tuppence have watched all-night movies with me and slept through rainy afternoons at my side, shared snacks and watched me paint rooms, helped me clear vines from overgrown bushes and clutter from bookcases and closets. And they have consistently interfered with too much computer time.
For most of us, we have now been confined to our own spaces for long, long, periods of time. And we have harbored rough emotions of loneliness and a sense of missing out on life. We have ached for the freedoms of being out in the world, feeling the wind against our unmasked faces, knowing the joy of group companionship, reveling in the sights of new places – as well as some familiar ones too long absent from our existence.
But to paraphrase writer Caroline Knapp, “when you live with a dog, in many ways you enter a new orbit, a universe that features new rituals, new rules, a new way of experiencing life.” And in such a brilliant animal universe I have found a treasury of new insight.
Perhaps when we all feel safe again – for ourselves as well as on behalf of each other – we may be even better prepared to tap into the life lessons taught by our animals, especially our dogs. Perhaps we can truly appreciate the sights and sounds and scents of life, the freedoms no longer forbidden, living in the joy of the moment, and of not taking any of it for granted. Including the simple joy of feeling the wind on our faces … like dogs riding in cars.