People always find it comforting to think that someone is looking out for them. Whether it’s a parent or a spouse or a friend, the idea that someone has taken your best interests to heart is a real source of gratification. Some folks even like the idea of a guardian angel.
I suppose a dog is like a guardian angel. Ideally they look to protect a person and, by extension, their family. It’s all part of the pack mentality.
Italian painter Pietro da Cortona captured the classic idea of the guardian angel in his oil painting aptly called GUARDIAN ANGEL. The painting has angels with wings, puffy clouds, and mysterious skylines. It combines life in the ether with life in the material world as angels, clearly visible to the bewildered child in the painting, pervade human existence. It links the world we see with our eyes with the world that might exist in the spiritual dimension. The second angel, located by the tree at the bottom of the painting, is an interesting thematic addition to the illustration. It’s like he’s being gobbled up by the earth. I can’t quite make it out but there might even be a man with a beard grabbing the angel. This could be suggesting the idea that children accept the concept of a guardian spirit while adults not only reject it: they go out of their way to destroy it.
I’m not trying to argue for or against the existence of guardian angels. I just like the painting and the idea it promotes – mainly the conflict between the tangible and the intangible or the visible and the invisible.
‘Hang on a minute,’ you’re probably saying. ‘I thought this was a dog blog! Dude, ditch the art history crap and tell me some cute dog stories!’
Alright, I see your point so now its time for me to make my point. Have you ever noticed how your dog looks out for you? At bedtime, Reilly always waits for both my wife and I to make our way upstairs – herding us up the stairs in a way. While we get ourselves ready for slumber, he jumps up on a small couch that looks out our bedroom window facing onto the street below. Sure, you might think that Reilly props himself up on the couch so he can look for squirrels, cats, skunks and raccoons. But one night last summer Reilly proved he was a true family guardian.
My wife and I were jarred from our sleep deep into the night by Reilly growling and letting out a few barks. Delirious, I pulled myself out of bed and made my way over to the couch. I looked out the window and saw a person slowly walking down our driveway to a waiting car. Because I was half asleep, I assumed it was the newspaper being delivered. I comforted Reilly and then climbed back into bed. Before I drifted off to sleep I glanced at the clock and thought, ‘Geez, 3:30 is a little early for the paper to come.’
The next morning, we made our way out to the family car. We had inadvertently left it unlocked and the mystery person who Reilly alerted us to had gone in and tossed it for change and whatever else they could find of value. Fortunately all they got was a few dollars in coins.
However, what struck me as curious was Reilly’s nightly position, poised on his perch, sleeping with his eyes half open, looking to see what’s coming up and down our street. Every night he assumes the role of guardian, ready to alert us to threats when they present themselves. Unfortunately we missed his warning the night before.
About a month after the initial incident, Reilly woke us up again. This time we had a plan. As soon as I was awake, I flicked on the hall light so the petty thief knew we were up. Then I charged down the stairs and flicked on the outside lights. I don’t know if this worked or not. All I do know is that, when I looked out the front window, no one was hanging around our house. (What did you think I was going to run outside and tackle the guy? It also helped that the car was locked.)
In a sense, Reilly is like the guardian angel in Pietro da Cortona’s painting. He is conscious and alert, ready to protect us from the funny business happening below. Meanwhile, we’re like the little kid – bewildered and wide-eyed – mostly because, when Reilly decides to protect us, we’re usually half asleep.