I want to show you a beautiful (but very sad) photograph, taken recently in Teresopolis, Brazil, just northeast of Rio:
If you look in the lower left corner beside the cross, you will see Leao, a blonde Lab sort of mutt. He is lying beside the grave of his person, Cristina Maria Cesario Santana, who was recently killed in the 900 square miles of floods and landslides that ravaged the area. The mass graves in the picture only hint at the loss of life. At last count, 207 people were missing, and 741 had died.
Leao must have witnessed more terror and destruction than many of us have ever seen. He’s surely frightened, and flashing through his mind must be haunting memories of suffering, loss, and grief. And yet there he is, a symbol of grace under pressure. His loyalty shines through and shouts to us that beauty can cling to the underbelly of suffering.
According to a recent report, Leao has been lying on the grave for days. You may think his loyalty is unique, but I have a whole file of dogs who have behaved as he has. When an avalanche swept Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s son Michael into a lake some years ago, for instance, his Lab mix, Makwa, refused to leave the site of the unrecovered body and sat in the freezing cold and sleet for five days. Royal Canadian Mounted Police finally had to chase him down and haul him away.
Then there was Spot, a border collie from Macclesfield, England. A new family took him home after the death of his person, Denis Goodier, but Spot soon escaped and traveled four miles to Goodier’s grave, where he lay down and wouldn’t leave. No one could explain how Spot found the grave because he’d never been to it before. Experts claimed he may have followed scents, but I like the local spiritual medium’s theory: Spot, she said, found Goodier because of the power of loyalty and love.
Maybe loyalty draws dogs like magnets to those they love, just as gravity pulls us to the earth. Maybe loyalty is a force in dogs — and sometimes in us, too. I am not sure how the mechanism works, but it inspires me and gives me hope.
And here is a photo of the grave of the most loyal dog of all: Grayfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier, who guarded the Edinburgh grave of John Gray for fourteen years until Bobby died at age 16 in 1872. People like me, who admire him, have left him toys, flowers, and sticks to fetch, as you can see.