Mittens By D. I. Jolly
The most rewarding and therapeutic conversation I ever had was with a dog named Mittens, and it’s taken me a very long time to work out why.
She was a cocktail breed, a little bit of everything shaken up and poured into a medium-sized dog with funny ears. But she was a good dog, not the brightest, but a good dog. Genuinely kind, playful and enthusiastic.
We buried her with her bed, her blanket and her favourite toy. So that she’d have them with her when she woke up. Or so my eldest said at the time.
I still get a shiver when I think back on everything that was going wrong at that point in my life: the stress, the frustration, the endless and needless grind. I guess it’s nothing new, or at least, not unique to me. It was just my turn to not know how I was going to make my life, and everything in it, happen. How I was going to tackle the seemingly impossible, because, obviously, it was all up to me. I think sometimes we get so buried under ourselves that we really do think that the sun won’t rise on its own. Days, weeks, months; they all blurred into one long stress dream, and I was not sure how much longer I could take the pressure of having to make the sun come up.
And then there was Mittens. Happy with a stick, happy with a ball, just happy to be alive. A bouncing bundle of enthusiasm and joy. And that’s what I think did it. When I look back on it, on that time of revelation, the switch that made it feel like the lights were coming back on and the monsters were running away. When I think back on that key conversation, the thing that I think not just let me talk but helped me to open up was that Mittens wasn’t going to judge me; she wasn’t going to interrupt or offer advice. She wasn’t going to tell me what I needed to do or offer some kind of three-line philosophical soundbite that would magically solve nothing. She just sat and listened until I was done, and I mean really done.
And she loved me just the same at the end of the conversation as she had at the start. I was able to admit my greatest fears and weaknesses, and Mittens just looked at me with her mouth slightly open and her tongue hanging out. When I cried, she lay on my hand, and when I laughed, her tail wagged.
She gave me a safe space where I felt heard if not fully understood. She gave me a space to hear myself talk out my problems, to have the perspective of hearing it all out loud rather than just feeling it spinning around in my head. And for that, I don’t think I could ever repay her. If she lived another 40 years like a princess in my house, I don’t think my debt would be dented.
She wasn’t a bright dog, she wasn’t good at tricks, and she really sucked at fetch. But she was my very good dog, who was more to me than most people in my entire life. She taught me how to be a more patient listener, a kinder, more open human. It’s sad, or maybe strange, to say, but sometimes I think that that dog was one of the true loves of my life, and I miss her every day.