He opens the truck and she tumbles out all legs and elbows and a thick wagging tail. A full one hundred and fifty pounds of mottled black and gold English mastiff. She lands on her feet, of course, and she knows the way to the back of the house, and she knows to wait on the second step so I can open the screen door to let her in. We have many dogs who come visit, but I think only Josie could call this home. She has an assortment of corners (and thoroughfares) where she lays, she likes to frequent the laundry room pining for her owner, my brother in law (who has us keep her when he’s away), and she always gives up the vigil about the same time of night and comes to stare into my eyes, telling me, telepathically, to put down the futon so she can go to bed. A couple of times, I’ve even felt a presence in my sleep, woken, and opened my eyes to a giant animal who, in a display of exceptional restraint, makes the quietest of barking sounds and leads me to a door to look. I’ve seen some weird stuff go down in my neighborhood because Josie woke me up for it. I was never worried though; I was holding the scruff of the biggest dog for blocks.

One night Josie woke me in the usual manner and I got out of bed, but she didn’t lead me anywhere. She just looked at me. I went back to bed and she stared, big sweet black eyes searching mine. I got up and she wagged her tail. I laid down and she stared. The clock said it was 1:30, early early Thursday morning. I walked to the kitchen and she followed. I sat down and opened my laptop and she lay on my feet, looking pathetic. We sat like that, me writing, Josie whining softly, ignoring my sweating toes, in the laptop lit kitchen, until my brother in law returned to get her, on his way back home. She clambered to her feet weakly, he coaxed her outside, and it became obvious that she wasn’t well.

He took her home immediately, to the vet the next day and she had indeed caught some bug. I felt bad for her, of course, but I couldn’t help but feeling touched that when Josie was sick she was able to come to me. This animal, who I see for just a few weeks a year, trusted me, and what’s more, took comfort in me. When she needed someone, I was, at least, acceptable. Sure it sounds dumb but really, the feeling of being needed, of being helpful, is universal; its a part of every kind of meaningful relationship.

That’s what Josie taught me.