Odd Thoughts: Empathy beyond understanding

Langley columnist Bob Groeneveld continues to be amazed at his dogs’ intuition.

How do they know?

How much do dogs understand that we cannot fathom?

Donna spent most of last week under the care of some wonderful nurses, doctors, and support staff at Langley Memorial Hospital.

Sam and Pippin were lost without her. The first couple of days, every time I came home, they ran to the gate, as they always do… only to be disappointed that their Mom wasn’t there, just a little slower to get out of the car.

After the first couple of times, Sam began to cry every time she wasn’t there, and I’d have to hug him and tell him it was going to be all right, that Mom would come home soon. But not right now.

He’d settle down, but sink into a kind of despondency for a an hour or so.

You can’t explain things properly to a dog. Even if children don’t understand what’s going on, you can at least explain to them, and whether or not they accept it, they can know that Mom will be back.

Sam couldn’t understand, and he couldn’t know.

But he did allow me to throw his duck for him. And every time we were done, he left the duck at the gate… for Donna.

I’m pretty sure Pippin thought that I’d murdered Donna and dumped her body.

Or at the very least, that I had lost her and simply wasn’t searching hard enough.

His looks were very accusatory.

Every time I left home to visit Donna at the hospital, I was snubbed. They wouldn’t even take their traditional “bye-bye bones.”

Until the day Donna came home.

They were back to their jovial selves, eagerly and expectantly seeing me out the door.

I didn’t even know for sure that she was going to be released… but they knew.

When I returned with Donna, we were both concerned that they would explode with joy – which they would routinely do any time either of us returned after an hour or two away.

I made several preparations, erecting barriers and limiting access to ensure that they did not do their still-fragile Mom an injury.

And they didn’t.

They just didn’t.

They were as overjoyed as expected.

And yet they remained uncharacteristically reserved and gentle.

They may not understand us all the time, but there is something going on in those brains of theirs that we shall never fully comprehend.

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