Love Actually

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Wendy Hodge

By WENDY HODGE

Last night, one of the movie networks was playing “Love Actually.” I love that movie, especially the opening lines. Hugh Grant is narrating, and he says (with that wonderful British accent), “Whenever I feel gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport.” Voiced over a montage of family and friends hugging each other as they arrive or leave each other are these words — “It seems to me that love is everywhere.”

Sometimes I doubt those words. There are plenty of cranky and unpleasant folks in the world who seem bound and determined to drain all the love off the planet that they possibly can. And some days I seem to run into every last one of them.

But I’ve found my own version of Heathrow Airport. This morning I took my dog, Elvis, to the vet for a haircut and a bath. And there, in the lobby of this small animal clinic, love was everywhere.

Several other pet owners were ahead of me, and like polite southern folks do when crowded into a small space together, we all talked as if we were old friends.

A round little woman was the first to speak. “Tiny is here for his weekly spa day,” she said as she looked lovingly at what was quite possibly the ugliest dog I’ve ever seen. Perhaps a cross between a greyhound and a porcupine, this dog’s fur was as coarse as a Brillo pad that has been left out in the sun for a week or two. His coat was an indeterminate non-color somewhere between pink and taupe. His eyes were slanted as if he were squinting at us all, one eyeball looking easterly and the other gazing due north. And his tongue, well … it just hung there out of the side of his mouth, like it was trying to distance itself from the dog’s face.

At the sound of his name being spoken aloud, Tiny launched himself onto his owner and dragged that tongue across her face. The sweet lady seemed to accept this as a natural course of events. “He’s had a stressful week,” she continued. “Our grandchildren have been visiting, and, well, Tiny just isn’t a kid-friendly dog, if you know what I mean.”

“I know what you mean,” an older gentleman responded. “Winston here prefers adult company, too. He’s very shy.” Cradled in his lap, licking himself in what can only be described as something best done in the privacy of his own home, Winston seemed completely unbothered by the entire room’s focused attention on his personal grooming. Winston seemed anything but shy. Winston was a bulldog who was utterly comfortable in his own skin … not a self-conscious bone in his big body.

From the back of the room came an excited yelp as a pair of golden retriever puppies strained against their leashes, eager to launch themselves into the center of the room. “Y’all stop it!” their frazzled owner said in a monotone that suggested she’d said those words a million times already that morning. Looking up, the young woman realized the room’s focus had shifted to her. “This is Cuff and Link,” she said, glancing around the room.

“Oh, you’re a Rocky fan?” Winston’s owner asked.

“Rocky who?” she answered.

“Never mind,” Winston’s human laughed and eased Winston onto the floor so he could reach out and pet Cuff … or maybe it was Link.

“My dad named them,” the girl said, “so I have no idea where he came up with that.”

While she spoke, both puppies licked her shoes and her arms and each other, tails wagging so frantically that their backsides shook with the effort. The girl returned her attention to her phone, oblivious to the lovefest happening at her feet.

Sitting calmly beside me, my own sweet Elvis gazed around the room and took it all in. Elvis is a mix of Shih Tzu and bulldog, which means he is fluffy and adorable and snaggle-toothed and just about perfect. (We had left his equally perfect “brother” Darryl back at the house because he’d already had his bath a couple of weeks before.)

Cuff and Link bounded toward Elvis, and (after much sniffing and nose rubbing) the three of them began chasing each other around the room. Soon Winston joined in. Tails wagged rapidly, and instant friendships were formed. Even Tiny found his way into the group where he was accepted as if he were the handsomest fella in town.

We all grew quiet, all us humans, and just watched the sheer joy on display. And we all smiled, real smiles, at the innocence of it all.

The group was broken up when, one by one, each dog was called to the back. Their owners showered them with hugs and promises of returning quickly, while the staff plied the dogs with treats and promises of lots of walks.

We all ducked our heads a bit and smiled at each other as if this kind of attachment to a pet was just a bit foolish. But then we returned reassuring smiles to each other. “It’s not foolish at all,” we were silently proclaiming. “It is an honor and privilege.” And we all waved and made our exit.

Standing in the parking lot, I looked back at the door and offered this to the clouds above:

Bless Tiny and his crooked face. Bless Winston and his rough-around-the-edges heart. Bless Cuff and Link and their abundant energy. And bless my sweet Elvis. And may you be blessed enough to have Love Actually be as close as sweet doggy kisses on your cheek.

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