Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem. ― A.A. Milne
“Be careful,” The man warned, nodding towards his neighbour’s fence, “I’ve told them to fix that wire. One day that monster of a dog is going to break through and hurt someone.”
We were standing a few houses down from my primary school where a large black dog was slamming itself into the wire fence, teeth bared, eyes glinting and manic. Saliva dripped from his mouth as a savage, animalistic snarl filled the air. Standing at full height, his face was level to mine.
Across the road, a group of kids jeered at the dog, throwing stones in his direction, feeling safe at their distance. As more children entered the street, they followed the lead of the others, walking on the other side of the road, calling out names.
‘The poor dog.’ I thought, ‘Maybe it just doesn’t have any friends, maybe it is sad that everyone is mean to it’. I took a deep breath and walked directly past the animal, he hurled himself against the fence, eyes boring into mine, teeth glinting, warning me to stay away. “Hello,” I said without breaking my pace. I turned away and continued on to the schoolyard, wild black eyes following me.
The next day, I once again greeted the dog as I walked past, and continued this every morning and afternoon. After a few months, the dog stopped snarling angrily at my presence. Within six months, it wagged its tail when I approached. A year after my initial greeting, it let me pat it through the fence.
I never met the owners of the house where the dog lived so I never learned his given name, but to me he was Barney. Not once in the years that I walked past did I see any kindness shown to Barney, and without his snarling, I could now see both gentleness and hurt in his eyes, a longing to be loved and feel connection. The same desire that filled me as a shy socially-awkward child, along with millions of other humans every day.
Our Unspoken Friendship
On the afternoons when I felt drained or lonely, I would sit with my back against the wire fence separating us, and he would lean into me, his head on my shoulder. In silence, we would comfort each other, healing together. It was a bond without words, there was no need to explain or justify our feelings. We knew we had each other’s back.
“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
― A.A. Milne from The House at Pooh Corner
Then one day I walked past the fence and Barney was gone. I never found out why or what happened to him. I only hoped that he left peacefully. And I once again found myself alone.
It was a few years later when sitting in a hotel room, lonely tears on my cheek, a small bird flew in through the window, landed in front of me and proceeded to stare unblinkingly into my eyes. No matter how much I tried to shoo the bird out, it refused. “You’re going to get me in trouble!” I told it. The bird didn’t listen. Instead, it insisted on following me around. Then, as I slumped against the wall, it climbed onto my shoulder and leaned in, the gentle touch of its feathers on my cheek. We sat there for a moment in each other’s presence, a mutual understanding passing between us before it took flight and soared out the window in a flash of colour. I instinctively knew it was the soul of Barney, healing me one more time, honouring our friendship, saying goodbye. He was now free. He had found his peace and given me mine.
How it is that animals understand things I do not know, but it is certain that they do understand. Perhaps there is a language which is not made of words and everything in the world understands it. Perhaps there is a soul hidden in everything and it can always speak, without even making a sound, to another soul. ― Frances Hodgson Burnett
Generally, when we seek connection, we look only to fellow humans, we often overlook the souls in bodies different from the human form. Yet, like us, they seek love, understanding, and touch. They hold great wisdom that has been forgotten in our busy, technology-filled lives.
We do not own animals, as they do not own us; we are all simply sharing this world together. We are the guardians of their lives and in return, they bring us joy, unconditional friendship, and solace in times of need.
Thinking of Barney makes me stop, pause for a moment, it makes me look at the creatures around me, from the crows in the trees above to the ants marching in impressive unity by my feet, and in the silence I can feel the soul of Barney, and the words of Emily Dickinson move through my mind:
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
– Emily Dickinson
What are your experiences with connecting with animals on a deeper level? We invite you to share your experiences in the comments below and take a moment to appreciate the creatures we are so blessed to be surrounded by.
With boundless, soul-connecting love,