Joey didn’t even flinch as he walked up to her. She still has issues trusting new people, especially small ones since they can often be loud and awkward.
Running into kids is a fairly common occurrence on our walks, so we’ve developed a strategy. Immediately, I started in with the, “Do you want to say hi? This is Alli, the brown one. Let’s just pet the brown one, the white and brown gets scared of new people,” which segues often into, “You know it’s always important to ask to pet someone’s dog, right?” as little hands start with Alli. Alli loves the little humans, probably because they are usually covered in some type of crumb or interesting smell. She even let the neighbor girls put a wig on her once. But not Joey, the brown and white one approaches all new humans with caution and distrust.
So this little boy, who I would guess to be about five or six, walked right up to Joey and put her head in his hands. As he looked into her eyes I found myself stumbling over my pet the dog speech and wondering who the little dog whisperer was. I wondered if he understood what I started to say as there have been times we’ve stopped to talk to little ones and it was pretty obvious that there hadn’t been much language development and interaction with the them. We’ve run into kids who looked five or six with the language skills of a toddler.
He continued to study Joey and as he walked around to her side, he ran a hand gently down her back. “I can see her spine. Does she get enough to eat?”
I stopped and took a good look at him. T-shirt, shorts, sneakers. Standard kid gear. He was very focused on Joey and kept running his hand along her back, um, spine. He had freshly cut hair, the hair cut acknowledging the death of someone close to him. He looked up at me with big brown eyes and repeated, “Does she get enough to eat?”
I went into some rant about kibble, hyper dogs run a lot, and how the vet always says she’s very healthy and lean. Satisfied with my answer, he ran back to his friends.
My neighborhood has a tendency to be quite transitional, but I hope we run into him again. He was one of those reminders we all need about assumptions. He kinda looked like a little hopper in training, but this kid was deep. Then again, I suppose a lot of little hoppers are deep. I certainly didn’t expect him to mention Joey’s spine. I’ve heard, “Your dog is SKINNY!” more times than I can count and Joey certainly never lets those kids lay a hand on her. And more than his intelligence, the question about her getting enough to eat displayed an empathy I don’t often see in grown humans, let alone kids.
Maybe he’s been hungry. I don’t know.
He was reminding me not to make assumptions, right?
I’ve always felt that empathy was born of experience, though, and that the kindest people have experienced the most exquisite pain.