The Unthinkable has happened – after a year and a half, my son has left for California, which is 3 thousand miles from here, with his dog Lucy riding shotgun, so to speak. He later told me that Lucy was doing just fine as long as he was going about 60 miles an hour, but that she would start panting and being really nervous if he increased the speed to 80 miles. Is that a really smart dog or what? Smarter than most humans if you ask me.
I have been taking care of Lucy for him for 18 months.Every day for the last year and half I would start my day by taking Lucy for a walk, watching her chasing squirrels and jackrabbits, or allowing children waiting for the school bus to pet her while wagging her tail to indicate her friendly disposition toward the juvenile delinquents in our neighborhood.
My mornings are empty now and without a real purpose other than working and waiting for the inevitable end of my days now that there is no need to walk Lucy as she is no longer here. And so are my evenings and nights. There is a Japanese proverb that says: “There are 15 moonlit nights and 15 dark nights in a month [月夜も15日、闇夜も15日, tsuki yoru mo jugo nichi, yami yoru mo jugo nichi]. But all my nights seem moonless now that Lucy is no longer protecting our house with her powerful presence.
Lucy knew that something was wrong when we asked her to get into the car. Dogs sense more than we know. Usually she can’t wait to jump into the car for another exploration of this world – she sticks her nose out of the window not to miss a single scent along the way before eagerly exploring a new area. But this time we had to ask her three times before she finally reluctantly assumed her favorite position in the passenger seat.
Lucy never was my dog. That was why she made it very clear that she was only willing to tolerate me and my wife. As long as we fed her, walked her and generally took good care of her, she would greet us enthusiastically every time when one of us or both of us returned home even after only a short absence as dogs do, but she would not overindulge us with an abundance of affection because the way she saw the situation, we were merely her temporary custodians, not her rightful owners. She would for example never jump on the sofa to be close to us when we were watching TV or talking. She knew that she had to keep her distance from us because she was somebody else’s dog. Unlike many humans, most dogs play by rules and the rules in the dog world are pretty clear and straightforward. The bond between a dog and the dog’s owner lasts a lifetime and a dog’s heart has enough space in it for only one owner.
Lucy kept waiting for my son all those months because she knew that he had to come back at some point. When we took her to the airport to meet him there, she absolutely went crazy, jumping at him, embracing him with her front paws and licking his face again and again.
Soon I will be just a distant memory in Lucy’s mind because most dogs can be loyal only to their original owners even long after their death.
A statue at the Shibuya train station in Tokyo has been reminding Japanese commuters since 1935 about the loyalty of Hachiko the dog (忠犬ハチ公, “chuken”, or “faithful dog” Hachikō) who used to wait for his master there every day exactly at the time when his train was due to arrive for 9 years after he died of stroke. In Prague, people meet at Václavské Square “under the horse” or “under the horse’s tail”, namely a statue of the Good King Václav on his horse, who was assassinated on the order of his own brother, Boleslav the Cruel in 935. In Tokyo, people meet “by the statue of Hachiko the dog”.
Most dogs don’t have to suffer as Hachiko did, waiting for his master in vain for 9 long years, because most dogs live only about 10 years and most people live about 7 times longer.
Things are simply arranged much better in the world of dogs, compared to the world of humans, with strong, clear, and permanent rules that make so much sense that humans could use them in their world too.
But of course, we humans play by different rules, and besides, canine rules would never work in our world because nothing is constant in our world and the rules are constantly changing.