Back in 2018, I adopted a 3-month-old chihuahua mix. He was this smiley little ball of potato, and I loved him instantly. His name, I decided, was Hugo. When he moved into adulthood, he became fiercely loyal to me, even to the point where he’d beg to go on a car ride to the pharmacy just because I was driving.
But it wasn’t until 2020 that I really learned how deep and unconditional Hugo’s love is. When the pandemic came, the world shut down. I was laid off, and was forbidden to see my father in his nursing home. My world grew smaller.
So, too, did Hugo’s. I didn’t like to spend much time outside, in the early days. I had to keep him away from greeting other dogs, and he’d look over his shoulder at me, hurt. I tried to pet him extra for that. And most of the time, I was inside.
But you know what Hugo did? He didn’t hate me because I had to change our routine, even though I castigated myself. Instead, he adapted and learned to love home time. With more time on my hands, I could play with him more, too, running from him with his favorite toy through the kitchen. His good nature and inherent sense of humor buoyed me up.
My dog kept loving me.
I gained 30 pounds in 4 months and hated myself. My dog kept loving me. I dyed my hair from brown to pink to blue and fried my ends. My dog kept loving me.
Then in 2021, just after many Americans had celebrated the New Year by waving 2020 so long and good luck, my father got infected with COVID-19 in his nursing home. We had 1 week of false hope, 2 weeks of no hope, and in January he passed away. Hugo stayed with me in bed, letting me sob into his soft mane.
I stopped getting dressed for a while, focusing on getting through the funeral. When my boyfriend dumped me two weeks after my dad’s death, that’s when washing my hair seemed less important than usual. Looking back, I was probably in the worst state of my life. I was unwashed, barely dressed, overweight, and grieving.
My dog kept loving me.
It didn’t matter how stinky I got, or how much I’d been crying, or how many orders of bubble tea I bought that I couldn’t afford. He’d lie on my bed with me and fix me with his liquid brown eyes, that funny left eye going slightly wall-eyed the way it does, and just radiate goodness. Sometimes when I hold him it feels like holding a human child - all that innocence and intelligence and kinship.
And my dog made me wonder about something deceptively simple.
If Hugo could love me like that, at my utter worst - maybe it means I’m deserving of love, regardless of how I look, how much I weigh, or how sad I am. Can I learn this from my dog? Can I be bold enough to give this love to myself, and to those around me?
I think it’s worth a try.
Morgan Harper Nicholas, an American poet, wrote these words for her baby son:
“You are worth no less when you look or feel different.”
It’s good to learn that lesson young, because I’m just learning it now. Let’s all try to love ourselves so much better this year.
Hugo says you deserve it.