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Five Life Lessons We Learn From Our Dog- And They're Not What You Think
Our Dog Can Shape Our Character
I’ve had dogs all my life, and when I think back on each and every one of them, I realize I couldn’t have adjusted to my life’s trials and tribulations without them. We all know the clichés of being dog owners. For example, “A dog is a man’s best friend.” True. Dogs also love us when no one else does at any moment in time. True. Dogs teach children responsibility; another important truth. However, upon closer inspection, I am continually amazed by the deeper, more profound ways our canine friends help us in life. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have my dogs.
Our dogs teach us how to be patient. Most dogs’ love is so loyal and strong that they will patiently hold back their bodily functions as long as they can to please us. My dogs have always had big yards to enjoy when I was at work. Then they stay in all evening to get their love and attention. However, I never understood their true patience until my Golden Retriever, B.J., pointed it out to me. My first husband and I were going through a sad divorce, so I kept B.J. with me at all times. She even accompanied me to work because I needed her and my students loved her. She was my lifeline to the world. I was in a counseling session to deal with the divorce one day after work with B.J. by my side. Well, I ignored her movements of going to the door and back to me during that hour because I was totally into my own emotions. With a look of utter embarrassment, she finally released her bladder on the office carpet just before the session ended. I felt awful for her. I didn’t scold B.J. because she was patiently trying to tell me over and over without interrupting my session. Most of us whine, yell, or curse if we don’t get our needs met in a timely manner. I learned that holding back a bit until the time is right to release my needs has been a healthy lesson in my second marriage.
Dogs listen to their intuitions. I was taking care of a friend’s dog for the day one summer, so I took her along with me to the beach. Blamer, a large mutt, was a loving, friendly dog who seemed to like everyone. However, when a strange man approached us to talk to me, Blamer immediately stood up in front of me and growled. He tried to sweet talk her while continuing to walk toward me, but she would have none of it and began to bark incessantly. Thank God he finally walked away. I felt that I had dodged something evil, but Blamer absolutely knew that I did. How many times have we allowed an unsavory person into our lives, without trusting our own intuitions?
Dogs give depression a run for its money. None of us can walk through the fields of life without getting our feet muddy every now and then. Life is tough and it can knock us down without a moment’s notice. When my father left, I had my Dachshund, Missy, to lick my tears and give me new hope for fourteen years. B.J.’s love and loyalty gave me the strength to get through a sad divorce, and she was there when I met the love of my life. Dogs are being used in most elder care homes to lessen the loneliness; and, inmates raise service dogs to give their lives new meaning. More than a best friend, our dog is our guardian angel when we are in desperate need of being saved.
Dogs teach us to live in the moment. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t asked themselves, “I wonder what my dog is thinking?” It’s during those down times when our dog is resting quietly at our feet, eyes alert and ears twitching, when this question comes up. We humans spend such an inordinate amount of time during the day worrying about jobs, bills, health and family that we seem to have lost sight of how to rest our brains at all. Even sleep has become a time of restlessness and worry. One of the few times of my day when I am totally in the moment and at peace is when I walk my dogs. I can feel my body relaxing into my breaths when I watch my dogs’ joy at finding new scents, sights and sounds. Their whole body is immersed in these tail-wagging moments. My old guy, Benny, is now thirteen. He limps a bit with arthritis, but when it’s time to walk, he becomes a young stud again. He jumps at his leash, barks with happiness, and trots along like a runner in his prime. Both of my dogs can’t contain their enthusiasm of being in the moment when everything around them is simply perfect. It’s truly contagious because I often stop to roll around in the grass with them before it’s time to go back to my reality.
Dogs teach us how to die with dignity. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the phrase, “We don’t let our pets suffer the way humans have to when they have an incurable illness.” Right now as I type, Brittany Maynard is fighting for her right to die in California. She had to move to Oregon to die in peace, her way, with her family when she decides the time is right. Our dogs are more fortunate if they are in a loving home. I don’t even want to recount how many times I have had to let my dogs go peacefully in my arms in veterinary offices all over California; however, with each passing, I felt so honored and blessed to have been with them. I would never let my cancer ridden dogs (or cats) suffer to their last breath without medicine to ease them home. And even more astounding, none of my dogs ever complained about being deathly ill- their continual obedience and love prevailed until our last moments together. When our female lab golden mix, Bonney, stopped eating, our older lab mix boy, Benny, would go to the other side of the yard and bring her the pears she loved to eat off the tree. She could barely lift her head when he dropped them by her mouth, but her loving eyes and gentle paw tap told Benny that she was grateful for his love. I hope and pray I have the same leaving as my dogs- being surrounded by loved ones with humane doses of gentle drugs to take me home to my Maker. I repeat, “I wouldn’t be me without my dogs.”