On Dogs, Depression, and Rickie Lee Jones

I used to have a dog named Domini when I was a child who licked my face every time I cried. When I was home sick from school, she’d lie at the end of the bed and keep watch until I was better. She was so sensitive that when she went into heat she would take all of the stuffed animals off of my bed, arrange them in a circle, plop down in the middle of the circle, and tend to each one with kisses and licks. She was an extraordinary animal.

I thought all dogs expressed sadness and glee and pain and sensitivity and emotions in the same way Domini did, so when I got Rosie, I was pretty sure I knew what to expect. The first time I cried with her was the day I adopted her, and they were tears of joy. I pulled her onto my lap and held her tight. She looked at me for a second, and then she jumped off. Wait, what? Where were my licks and kisses? Aren’t all dogs the same? In my naiveté, I thought so.

I’ve come to the conclusion over the past few months — as I’ve been battling a pretty brutal depression — that Rosie doesn’t express empathy through licks; she worries and takes on aspects and qualities of my mood, like a sponge. She’s a worrier. When I’m depressed, she gets depressed, too. She doesn’t look me in the eye, and she sleeps with her back to me (if she sleeps with me at all). Which makes me feel fucking horrible and awful and like a bad mother.

But Rosie’s really the best reason I’ve had these days to get myself well — she’s forced me to turn my focus outward because I have to take care of her. I can’t bear to see her unhappy. Just as I’m sure she can’t bear to see me depressed.

Fiona, my wise friend, said, “When you feel better, so will she.” The anti-depressants have just begun to kick in and I swear Rosie has that little smile on her face again, because so do I.

I did this experiment the other night because I wanted to see what kind of music — voices, pitches, sounds, instruments — were appealing to Rosie’s ears. The winner, hands down? And wouldn’t you know it — my favorite: Rickie Lee Jones. Often not the most uplifting, sometimes sings songs my mother and I dub “wrist-slashers”. I put on the song “On Saturday Afternoons in 1963” from her debut album as well as the more upbeat, later-career track “Jimmy Choos”. And the dog was fucking mesmerized. At first, she stretched out her paws as if to get settled. Then she lay still, eyes darting back and forth, as if taking it all in. When Jones went up to the higher registers, Rosie shut her eyes, and opened them when the higher part was over. I swear, I may have been reading into it – but it was truly amazing to watch. And beautiful. And no, she did not slash her paw when it was all over. She just seemed relaxed and “in a zone.”

Rickie Lee Jones

Other music/sounds Rosie seems to like: Kraftwerk, Jimmy Somerville, and Justin Timberlake. But she doesn’t seem to enjoy Katy Perry. Today I’ll try some classical and see if she can distinguish between composers. (Yes, I’m nuts.)

Oh, one more thing: the other day I Googled: “How do you know if you’re obsessed with your dog?” And it said, “One: you constantly worry about their feelings.” And “Two: you Google things like ‘How do you know if you’re obsessed with your dog?'”

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