The area above a dog’s mouth, just south of the nose, can only be described as a mysterious shadowland. It’s not just hair or fur. It’s not a feature really. It’s an outline. It’s a silhouette of a mustache, something French and fancy. I am in love with this precise part of a canine face.
Follow it right, follow it left, and trace with your fingertips a fine mouth that seems to be made out of gummy bears. The skin-meets-latex-stuff on a pup’s snout, it stretches into a panting smile when they’re happy, it hangs loose when they sleep. And my lastima starts to thicken when I wiggle it because it feels like the felt on a puppet. Because it feels fake. Because I think about how they all have this make-believe, cartoonish, black rubber on their faces, and it is very cute. And it is very real.
Today I walked through the hallways of an animal shelter. I stopped at every kennel to say “Hello.” To say “I am looking at you." To say, "You count." It’s one thing to stand among such needful barking and weighted whimpers, to inhale a world of hurt and exhale all of your hope. It’s one thing to see what we’ve done.
But it’s quite another to touch every set of gummies through the bars and let it be funny. To let it make you laugh despite wanting to cry. To let them bring you joy, and to let them be proud of it. To let them know that they are loved for their stretchy lips, if for nothing else. Even if just for a single moment before they go, to somebody in this world, they were not imagined or invisible, they were very much here and it was a delight. And it mattered to feel their breath on my hand.
p.s. I like to pretend my dog is a mustached, French waiter and try to order food from her.