Is there anything cuter than a picture of children and animals? Probably not, and that’s just the problem – such pictures tend to be taken as throwaways, too lighthearted, too cliché – I think they hide hidden depths. Both children and animals inhabit worlds we can only guess at, imagine. One we can never visit, another we may have known, but have outgrown and quickly forgotten. We are foreigners to their minds, but we can observe. The cuteness is only the surface layer.
Today, we took my niece Ellie on a fun-filled outing. She encountered several dogs along the way. Each time she greeted them exactly the same – “Ohh, doggie,” she’d exclaim. “I hug!” And, she would proceed to go over pet, nuzzle or kiss the animal. “Goodbye doggie,” she’d then say.
Where does the love of animals come from? What causes it in some and not in others? Why do we find such images so precious, so cute? I see in my niece the ability to step outside of herself and embrace another, the start of lifelong connection, the beginnings of wonder, empathy and love. Animals are so well suited in allowing this connection, in rewarding with soulful expression or wag of the tail, our fledgling efforts.
When Ellie arrived at my house today, my pugs greeted her with lavish kisses. “Tongue,” she said, as Alfie and Waffles licked her, slobbering all over her mouth. “Oh my gosh!” she said! When I witness the angelic calm, the sweet bliss that comes over her face with each embrace, I feel the same way. “Oh my gosh!” And, I hope I never lose my fascination with such exchanges, that I never dismiss what passes between these creatures as mere cuteness. I hope it remains as fresh for me, as curious as it did when I saw it today.
May I always see in such moments the birth of empathy, the promise of acceptance.