I am not a wise person. In the midst of the stress of my divorce, bankruptcy and foreclosure, I am apt to ignore my body’s cries for more sleep and better food and my brain’s alerts to let common sense guide me.
Dogs are wise without knowing it. They do not know why they do the sensible things they do which makes them Taoists of sorts, creatures who follow the “Way” and “go with the flow.” But it is precisely this which makes their actions so acutely important. When a dog does something, it’s almost as if you’re seeing the real purpose of nature, the best way to live. I have learned, perhaps, the most about living well from my dogs.
The first dog I remember existing in my universe was Socrates, more often called “Soc.” Soc was a huge Beagle – at least he seemed huge in my infant world. Up until I was about four, he was the friendly beast who followed my stroller around and watched encouragingly when I began to take tentative steps. He also served as a pacifier, letting me suck on his long ears before I had teeth. Afterwards, we came to a quick understanding that such activity was no longer appropriate. Soc had an affinity for naps and he snored very loudly even if you moved his head into a different position. These slumbers refreshed him greatly and he always expected a treat for waking up.
Lesson #1 – From Socrates the Beagle: Naps get a bad rap.
The next dog who entered my life was Skipper, a scraggly terrier mix who had been abused by his former owner. Skipper was a wild card – you never knew if he’d be happy to see you or mistake you for an intruder. His poor little mind was always going, trying to figure out what he was supposed to be doing. He sat outside in his kennel in the winter on his frozen water bucket, oblivious to the cold, ever watchful. He also had epilepsy which wasn’t really treated in dogs in those days. I helped him through many an episode by myself even at age six.
Lesson #2 – From Skipper the Terrier Mix: We all have our kinks.
When Skipper was old, we got Moses, a Siberian Husky replete with papers. His “official” name was “Kelly’s Baby Moses,” a slightly incorrect moniker since he ended up being mostly my Dad’s dog. But, despite this, Moses and I bonded and spent happy hours running, hiking and watching TV together. He was a staid, noble dog who did not really “play” or “frolic” but his patience was enduring and I could cry my teenage eyes out while burying my face in his silky husky fur for hours. He didn’t move an inch during these sessions though I imagine he had a look of exasperation on his face.
Lesson #3 – From Moses the Husky: Look for patient friends with lots of Kleenex.
In the next few years, I got a license, went to college, got married, and moved across the country – all by age 21. My then-husband had a dog named Manny who was a beautiful Golden/Chow mix. Manny was stubborn and walked like Mae West, her big fluffy butt swaying from side to side. She was fixed but any male dog within a mile of her fell in love with that bushy bum and followed her around. Manny was independent and always did her own thing. No amount of training or tearing your hair out could get her to do something she didn’t want to do. She even survived on her own in Boston for a week begging and stealing food as needed.
Lesson #4 – From Manny the Chow/Golden Mix: An independent life is an adventurous life.
A few years later, I adopted Kingfish, a white Lab/Chow mix. Kingfish was only 10-weeks-old when he came to my place, the first puppy I’d owned since Moses. He was so handsome with that snowy fur and black eyes. But he soon turned into an adolescent exhibiting traits such as destroying everything in sight. His housebreaking was also a mess since he was home most of the day alone. The stress of that time – no money, unfamiliar surroundings and a difficult marriage – made me less than patient with him. But he would occasionally do something like steal the toilet plunger and run around the house oblivious to the fact that no one wanted to play because, well, it was a toilet plunger.
Lesson #5 – From Kingfish the Lab/Chow Mix: Do silly things and then laugh at them.
The dogs in my life now are two wonderful pit bulls, Hudson and Falstaff. I lost my female, Amber, last May – she was as influential as they are. Pit bulls are a different sort of dog altogether. Mine are funny and playful and loving and comforting. They are also stubborn and frantic and downright disobedient at times. Hudson is my little black shadow – he even slinks his way into the bathroom with me. Falstaff gets cranky but is also a clown. They are both engaged and engaging. They are also pragmatic. Pit bulls are known for fighting with each other or other dogs – it was what they were bred for. And we’ve had our share of dog fights in the household. But, a day or so after a fight, they lick their wounds and make up, seemingly knowing that holding onto a grudge is not productive.
Lesson #6 – Amber, Hudson and Falstaff the Pit Bulls: Resentment gets in the way of moving forward.
The lessons I’ve learned over the years from my dogs have enabled me to stay stable and well during this time of extreme stress. I am letting go of past conflicts; using laughter as therapy; enjoying my independence; leaning on friends who are supportive; embracing my quirks; and, hey, taking a nap every afternoon.
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