I often wonder if my love for Waldo is predicated on the degree to which I positively project on him. That’s the thing about a dog: he can be a blank screen for all your emotional hopes and needs. Feeling unloved, blue or lacking in self-esteem? If you feed, walk, and occasionally pet him a dog will treat you like a combination of Superman and Tom Hanks as soon as you walk in the door. A magic fount of ceaseless unconditional love.
Some people say it’s all in our imagination, that dogs don’t really love us, they just love the food we give them, and that the feelings we ascribe to them are in our collective imagination. My dad, a vet, tends to come down on this side of the argument, maybe because he spent 50 years contending with clients like me who treat their dogs like human beings. When we visit my parents with Waldo in tow and my dad watches us pay more attention to Waldo than certain family members (whose behavior, let’s be frank, makes Waldo look like Audrey Hepburn) he smiles tightly with that vein pulsing in his neck.
It’s clear that Waldo plays me quite successfully for food and playtime; he’s a master manipulator. But I think it’s real, this doggy love, because I feel it in my heart, a failsafe truth-barometer. When he jumps into my lap, licks my face and curls up next to me making his special sounds of contentment, we’re having an exchange, a relationship. He’s happy and I’m happy. Really happy.