Friday, 11:30 am. I’m wandering the halls of the Orlando Convention Center as it’s gearing up for this weekend’s Celebrate Dogs event. I’ve already been there since Wednesday, working on a couple of projects before the main event, but now I’m just wrapping up interviews with Beatrice and Lambchop, otherwise known as:
Stella on Modern Family;
and Yakult on Suburgatory:
I was really happy to get the chance to meet these celebrity dogs up close and personal. This is the first year the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship has expanded into the full fledged Celebrate Dogs event, a full tilt weekend of activities of which the dog show is just one component, and I was very much looking forward to seeing the dock dogs, Meet the Breeds, check out the Olate Dogs from America’s Got Talent, so I was in a good mood.
And I remember this very clearly, standing on the side of the ring right after this happy picture was taken, and being suddenly overwhelmed with a longing to call home. I missed my children in a way that was sudden and immediate, and I remembered thinking it was strange I felt so compelled to do that right then, in the middle of a busy day. I called them at my parents’ house, talked for a few minutes, and hung up, still feeling disconcerted.
A few minutes later I ran into Jen Borke from Eukanuba, who apologized for being distracted. “You’ve heard about the shooting, right?” she said, and I hadn’t.
I spent a good 45 minutes reading the story about the tragedy in Newtown online, before realizing I had to stop or else I would just break down. I thought of my first grader’s classroom, the little faces I said goodbye to on Tuesday when I left, and I just couldn’t stop crying. There’s nothing you can do in these situations, of course, other than hold your loved ones close- but they were on the other side of the country, and I was in Orlando for the next three days, acutely aware in that moment of just how lonely you can feel when you don’t have someone to hug and it’s the only thing in the world you need.
I spent a good part of the next few days immersed in dogs, submerged, really, watching the way their owners would look into their eyes, or how they would lay a paw on their person when they weren’t getting enough pets.
I needed to see love.
I needed to see the casual ease with which a dog would sidle up to their loved one.
The soulful gaze of one who sees in front of them that who they love best.
I needed to see genuine happiness untouched by grief. All of us humans were putting on a brave face but everyone was muted, the strain of what we were hearing wearing on the collective consciousness, shadowy and grey.
So instead of going and doing what I would normally do, collect lots of information about breed history and ask questions about coat or temperament, I went in search of expressions of love.
I placed hands on fur and gave pet after pet, as if I were trying to absorb some of their contentment through my pores.
I was not alone in this.
There is something utterly comforting about being around dogs, isn’t there? A dog at ease will put you at ease.
If I couldn’t be at home, this was the next best place to be.
Many kinds of dogs, show dogs and pet dogs and mixed breeds and purebreds.
Many kinds of dogs, but only one kind of love.