The Soul of All Living Creatures

What animals can teach us about being human

In Our Yearning to Be Loved ...

With whom do you share your innermost feelings?

On a drive up the freeway to a conference in Boston, I smile as my mind drifts to what lies ahead—not as much to the meetings as where I’ll be staying—a chance to return to a favorite haunt, the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel. My delight in this grand old dame lies not in her history or stately decor, but instead
from my times spent there with an old friend. The first time I entered the hotel lobby, Catie greeted me with the doe-eyed look I’ve come to expect every time that I see her. Raised as a puppy since seven weeks old to serve as a guide dog for the blind, she came to the Fairmont as a two-year-old Lab after a

screening before her adoption revealed a small cataract in her left eye. Though her vision then, as now, was essentially sound—aside from the tiniest error, at times, when tracking a ball tossed high in the air—it disqualified her as a seeing-eye dog. Hired as the Copley Plaza’s canine ambassador, with an e-mail address, appointment book, and business cards of her very own, Catie commands a devoted clientele for jogs to the commons, walks round the square, or strolls through the shops of Newbury Street. For me, my day just seems to flow better knowing most times I end up in the lobby, there’s a good chance I’ll find her there patiently waiting—ready to offer a welcoming wag, a kindhearted face, and a tummy for petting.

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     A travel-weary, bedraggled couple, spent from their flight and with bags still in hand, set all aside to crouch down by Catie and linger awhile, petting her on the rug before, at long last, going up to their room. A middle-aged man in a trim business suit on his way to a meeting room somewhere downstairs risks wrinkles and dog hair on his pants, sleeves, and coat in exchange for a moment to nuzzle with her. The flush, tear-stained cheeks of a young red-haired girl—perhaps five years old—not wanting to go home break with a smile as Catie leans into her arms. As I watch from a corner, in the course of an hour, a stream of admirers shower Catie with affection. With an open-armed ease saved for familiar friends, they speak to her with blissed squeals of excitement, cooing oohs and baby talk, and softly murmured confidences. Furrowed brows wrinkled with worry and stress softly melt as her eyes meet theirs and she gazes at them with unguarded acceptance. One after another, the change is uncanny.

     We reach out to people as well as animals out of a longing we hold deep within to not be alone, to share what we feel, to relate in some way to the world around us. We yearn to be accepted for who we are, warts and all. We spend much of our lives in an unfolding saga, sorting among all the others we meet to find those who we believe best understand us, with whom we can feel free to just be ourselves. Yet with animals, I find, we do so quite differently.

     By their sides we let down our guard and show them more of who we are.

Photo by Korri Leigh Crowley / Cover photo by Phil Romans


This post is an excerpt from Chapter One of The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human (Random House / Crown 2013).  

Vint Virga, D.V.M. is a veterinarian in clinical practice specializing in behavioral medicine and author of The Soul of All Living Creatures.


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