LOVE IS A DOG NAMED WILLA….
“My Willita!! I love you!!” That’s what a wonderful Hispanic doormen on our street calls our Golden Retriever, Willa. He’s so happy to see her every morning that he bursts through the door of his building and kneels down to wrap his arms around his “Willita.”
All the doormen up and down the street feel the same way. Willa is more than their favorite dog; she’s their favorite “person.” On one morning walk, three different doormen declared independently of each other: “She’s the friendliest dog on our street!” And, “She’s the friendliest dog in New York!’” And “She’s the friendliest dog in America!”
“This dog loves me more than my wife!!!” one of the construction guys working on our building says every time he throws his arms around her.
Of course, all the doormen’s pockets are bursting with dog treats. And Willa sits down, lifts both her right and left paw to shake their hands (not at the same time, of course, but she would if she could…) and licks their faces.
Honestly, I’ve never seen people so happy to see anyone as these wonderful guys are to see Willa.
But it’s not just the doormen. It’s absolutely everyone who meets her. I take her for walks by the Guggenheim Museum every day and inevitably, people who are visiting NYC for the first time, stop whatever they’re doing (even if it’s marveling at the magnificence of the Guggenheim architecture) and come to meet, who else? Willa!
“Can I please pet your dog?” they inevitably say. “What’s her name??” (Okay, I stick with “Willa” instead of “Willita” unless a certain doorman is within earshot.) And they do what everyone else does: They kneel down, wrap their arms around her – shake her paws and tell her how beautiful she is. And she is. Inside and out.
But it’s not her beauty that is so irresistible, it’s her attitude. She’s the ultimate optimist. She walks up to people whom her instincts tell her are “dog people” with her ears down, her tail wagging, her eyes smiling and a look on her face that radiates well, love.
“I’ve never in my life seen such an incredibly friendly dog!” is the standard response. Mothers and fathers bring their tiny tots over to meet her. Even kids who are afraid of dogs, after watching from a respectful distance and being gently urged on by their moms, end up stroking Willa’s soft head.
So do grown ups. One sunny day across from the museum on the Central Park side of Fifth Avenue where I was walking Willa and enjoying people fussing over her, I spotted a lovely woman, probably in her sixties, watching the love-a-thon from a distance. Gradually, she came closer.
“She’s very friendly,” I called out to her after awhile. “Her name’s Willa. Would you like to pet her?”
“Oh, not really,” she said in a beautiful English accent. “I mean, I would, actually, but, um, she might not like it…I might not do it right. I’ve never really, um…” Her voice trailed off.
“Willa loves people and she loves all kinds of petting,” I said. “There’s no wrong way.”
The woman came closer and Willa, having spotted her, and being a good “reader” of emotions, looked at her, put her ears down, wagged her tail and made her big brown eyes look even kinder than ever. Then she sat down close, but not too close, to the woman.
“I think she’d really love your kind of petting,” I said, want to try it?” The woman looked at Willa and couldn’t help smiling. By this time Willa was lying down – so she thumped her fluffy tail winsomely.
The woman thought for a moment and then ventured closer. Then she actually reached down and stroked Willa’s soft head. Willa looked at her and didn’t move (except for her thumping tail.) The woman kept petting her – gently and lovingly. She even smiled.
Finally, she straightened her back and said, “I want to thank you. You can’t imagine what this means to me. I’ve been terrified of dogs all my life. Ever since I was a little girl. And now…(she began to choke up), I’m not. And I never will be again.”
Willa gave a little whimper – her way of saying “But what about the petting??”
“I came to New York by myself to find something,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what. Now I know. I came here to get over fear. Any fear. I wanted to be, well, braver. And now, thanks to your dog, Willa, I am.” (She was actually crying softly as she spoke… ) I really can’t thank you enough.”
Willa, the ultimate “caretaker” stood up and started licking her hands. Whenever she feels something’s “not right” with me, Kate or Abigail, that’s what she does. And we always tell her not to worry; we’ll be just fine. And we always are…
“Willa and I can’t thank you enough,” I said. “We’ll never forget meeting you. When you come back to New York, look for us across from the Guggenheim, on the park side of Fifth Avenue, okay? We’ll keep an eye out for you!”
I’ve no doubt that if that lovely women walked back into our lives, not only I, but Willa, would remember her.
Hey, you never know. Love works in mysterious ways.
She’s thumping her tail right now.