“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. “

—Anatole France

I lost one of my beloved dogs this weekend.

Her name was Neli (short for Cyberia’s Nelidova), she was a red Siberian Husky, she was 11 years old, and she was my sweetheart.

She and her son, Bobo, have been through quite a lot with me. She was born when my wife, Janice, was still alive and well. Neli and her husband Kijé “accidentally” had their son Bobo, with four other puppies, when she was two. Janice got sick that very year, and died in 2003. Neli, Kijé and Bobo were my only companions until Kijé got hit by a car several years later.

Since then it has just been the three of us. Neli was the leader of the pack, and was very conscious of her duties. Although usually aloof she would always know when I was not feeling well, physically or emotionally, and would be within arms reach. She and Bo were inseparable, and Bo had to know where Neli was at all times.

I miss her, terribly.

What is it that forms that bond and deep connection so many of us have for our animals? The psychologists might say it is anthropomorphic to cast on an animal human features and feelings. We then might expect them to feel the same way we do, to love the same way, and to empathize the same way as humans.

Anyone who loves an animal knows this isn’t entirely something we make up. We may not fully understand, or correctly understand, the way a beloved pet thinks or feels, but we do know there is some sort of very deep and profound connection between them and us that is quite real.

Some say that we can more easily see the divine nature of love within an animal—that somehow their soul and connection with God and the unified nature of the universe is clearer through their innocence and unconditional nature of their love for us. Maybe they act as a mirror for our own perfect soul that resides beneath the products of fear and separation in our own psyches.

I find myself wishing very painfully that Neli was laying out in the backyard scanning the trees for squirrels, or resting in the shade on a bed of cool black earth.

She didn’t do much, she didn’t buy me presents, or write me poetry, or take me out to dinner, but she did somehow create a spark of profound love within me. She was my friend, a listener, and an appreciative soul during the long dark hours of my loneliness.

I want to honor her life. I don’t want her to pass unnoticed. I want to take her ashes to one of her favorite spots and say a prayer for her with her son Bobo by my side. If she were watching me do this I am sure she wouldn’t be the least bit interested, but somewhere beyond relatively feeble dog intelligence, beyond comprehension, there is an awareness of love, appreciation, and acts of recognition. Neli is aware of my love, she may not describe it as I do, but she is aware I love her in some ineffable way.

How aware are we of the love around us? I think animals we love bring us to a place of realization where love does not require great acts of doing, giving, or pleasing. Love just is. In fact, I believe that love is the foundation of all relationships we have with anything. Sure, that relationship gets distorted with all kinds of things, but the underlying truth about relating to something is finding sameness somewhere in it, seeing the connection, seeing the fact that we are all made of the same stuff. I don’t mean quantum particles, I mean the intention to love and be loved, to acknowledge the fact that we are indeed all one, that we all know one another, and every animal, plant, and thing, as us.

Maybe my chattering brain is making it up. But I do feel something very real. I feel this connection to love with Neli and it seems more fascinating to me to feel it so profoundly with a dog because there isn’t much reason beyond my love for her to feel it. Like I said, dogs don’t do much.

So farewell little red dog. I miss you, and will always miss you. Thank you for being in my life. I hope to see you again one day. And I hope the squirrels aren’t too mad at you in heaven.