Spring, Starting Over & a Dog’s Love

Today, the sun is shining  in Nova Scotia and it’s a long weekend – a holiday about rebirth, second chances, and faith in the good that you can’t always see. That’s an increasingly important thing, in this world of ours.

Yesterday morning, I took my dog, Pippa, for one of our long daily walks, and I met a man who I haven’t seen in a few months now. It was a moment of renewal, as we re-connected and welcomed the spring together.

I wrote about this man on my Facebook page last November — a week after the US election. The story seemed to strike a chord with people, so I thought I’d share it again here, in the spirt of whatever holiday you might be celebrating this weekend.  I hope it shines a spotlight on a small part of the pain refugees experience. People fleeing war and persecution do it to be safe, and to have a better life than the turmoil in their country can offer. Canadians have welcomed thousands of Syrian refugees this past year, but maybe we don’t stop to think about the lives they’ve left behind — the careers, the friends, the homes, the treasured objects…and the beloved pets. 

One of the many advantages of working from home is that a couple of times a day, I can push back from the computer and take Pippa on a walk along the nearby trails. A couple of weeks ago, on one of these walks, we met a man. I should say, Pippa met a man (she’s a very outgoing dog and thinks everyone wants to meet her). As she lunged toward him, I pulled her back and ordered her to sit. The man just smiled (clearly a dog lover!) and bent down to pat her. Then, to my surprise, he sat down next to her and scooped her up in his arms. She LOVED this!

He was talking to her softly, in a language I didn’t know, as she licked his face. He looked up at me with tears on his cheeks, and in English he was clearly working very hard to learn, told me that he’d had a black and white dog, back home, in Syria.

I sat down next to him on the ground. For the next 15 minutes, we talked as well as two people can who don’t share a common language. The whole time, he held Pippa and cried, and she wriggled on his lap and licked his face. When she and I finally walked away, he stood and watched us until we were out of sight.

Almost every day since then, we meet him. He waits on a nearby street for us – I don’t know how long he waits, but we’re not out at the same time each day – and his face lights up when he sees Pippa. They have a happy little cuddle together, and then we go separate ways.

Today, he had someone else with him – a teenaged boy. The boy looked impatient and unimpressed, particularly when his dad starting waving eagerly to me from a block away. But when he saw Pippa – oh, how his face changed! He walked quickly toward us, and then just as his father had done, bent down and scooped Pippa up, and started to cry. Then he and his dad were smiling, and talking, and laughing.

The one thing they can tell me in very clear English is “We miss our dog”. But that was obvious, without words.

I worked with Bosnian refugees when I lived in Alberta back in the 90s. I’ve seen before how it can be unexpected things that help people mourn and move on. I feel fortunate to be reminded of that, again, and to have Pippa play such an important role in helping a family work through some horrible experiences.

Postscript: after this story was posted on Facebook in November, I was contacted by a couple of media outlets who wanted to tag along with Pippa and me on a walk (with a translator), in the hopes of meeting up with this gentleman and asking him what Pippa meant to him. I said no. His English is limited, and there was no way I could give him a heads-up that I’d be bringing a reporter with me. It felt like an ambush. He was so emotional every time we met, and I could tell it embarrassed him. So, although I agree it’s a lovely story, not every lovely story needs to be told on the evening news. Share the story, think about it, but most importantly, look around your own neighbourhood to see who you might touch with your friendship.

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