Nov 27, 2023


A fluffy white Great Pyrenees sitting on a sidewalk.jpg

This is Agnes, our three-year-old Great Pyrenees. She is a sight to behold — a combination of big, fluffy, stoic, and silent. She is stoic and silent even with her pack. I barely get a tail wag when I walk in the door, and that’s only if she’s hoping I’ll take her out. She will accept affection happily, but almost never give it. She likes to be near us, but never fawns, or licks, or nuzzles. This is a Pyr thing, and we knew it when we got her. But I don’t think I expected just how reserved she’d be. Or that she’d have no guarding instinct at all. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her growl. Dogs one quarter her size can easily boss her around. She barely registers visitors to the house.

Alison Gopnik reminds us that yes, you care for what you love, but you also just love what you care for. In this way, Agnes has earned my loyalty. But it’s not the same as with the other two dogs I’ve had in adulthood, who were so much more excited to see me every day. It has been a disappointment, if I’m honest.

A disappointment with an opening: Agnes brings more joy to strangers on the street than I ever thought possible. We are three years into sharing life and walks with her, and it never abates. People lose their minds over her ambling down the sidewalk, and she greets everyone like the queen she is: dignified, gentle, no drama, gracious, patient. She gets extra slow and sweet around small children, who readily drape their tiny bodies over her back with abandon. Once a five-year-old nearly levitated with excitement, announcing that Agnes could be a polar bear for Halloween — without a costume. Brian took her yesterday to the place where we get our haircuts, and the stylist insisted that Agnes roam the place unattended, eliciting the laughter and delighted gasps of everyone present. She is leonine in visage and big enough that her back half moves nearly separately from the front. I think the juxtaposition of her size and demeanor is the thing that gets people. It’s like that famous line of C.S. Lewis about Aslan: is He safe? No: Aslan is not safe, but good. Agnes is both tame and safe, but her visible shepherding power, held regally, suggests otherwise. She’s like one giant embodied virtue of clemency.

I’ve decided that Agnes’s purpose is not for the five of us who feed and care for her. She’s a dog for the people. She’s a surprise-bringer, wonder-activator, kid-energizer, big-distraction-from-everyday-cares kind of creature. She is our public-facing dog.