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What My Dog Taught Me

January 3, 2011

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Unfortunately, I had to put my 13-year-old dog to sleep over the holidays.  It was an incredibly sad decision.  However, I am glad that I had the opportunity to end his suffering and say goodbye in a loving way and acknowledge to him all that he has meant to me.  I do believe that the words of comfort and the affection shown by my son and me at this exceedingly difficult moment made a difference to him and were the proper way to end his journey and respect our relationship.

I have only ever really been a “dog” person when it comes to pets.   They are the rare animal that brings out our better nature and ends up teaching us things about life.  There are three things that “Buddy” and his predecessors have taught me: 1) the power of unconditional love; 2) the importance of loyalty and trust in our relationships; and 3) managing the inevitability of grief and loss in life.

I can only speak from personal experience, but I have found that a dog always loves unconditionally.  If you are their owner, they don’t judge who you are and are always happy to be in your presence.  It doesn’t matter if you leave for five minutes or five days, you get the same sadness when you depart and a warm reception every time you return.  You could be in a bad mood or feeling sad and they will do their best to wag their tail and cheer you up.  If you are sick, they will lie at the foot of your bed and do their best to provide their own form of comfort.  When good things happen, they immediately notice your positive energy and want to share the happy moments with you.  In short, they are always there for you without judgment.

There are no more loyal and trusting animals than dogs.   They will willingly give their life to protect you (and other family members) and not even think about it.  They are always on the lookout for your best interests and assessing the people you bring into your life.  I’ve found that they can be excellent judges of character.  They will gladly stick by your side and eagerly look to you for guidance and direction.  They may not always be perfectly obedient, but somehow, they know when it’s important to pay attention and listen.  They are also completely dependent upon you to make decisions that are in their best interest and look to you to provide their proper care and feeding.  They trust you will do the right things for them and respond accordingly.

Lastly, I’ve always believed that a pet is nature’s way of preparing us for the temporal nature of life.  All relationships have a beginning and an end, but few typically begin and end with you as the key element.  You are there when they are a puppy, enjoy them at their peak and nurse them in their old age as they struggle with their infirmities. You also have the power to decide when it is time to ease their suffering and say goodbye. The arc of the relationship is comparatively short from a time perspective but usually profound in terms of the connection that is created.  I find it sad that many times it is the fear of losing someone that often triggers people into mending fences.  With our dogs, we know we will usually outlive them, so we typically make the most of the time we have.

I am incredibly sad to no longer have Buddy as a part of my life.   He has been an important part of my world for almost fourteen years.  During that time, he has been a constant source of love, loyalty, and support.  It would be a much different existence if we all could take certain relationship cues from our pets.  If we practiced unconditional love for those closest to us, then we would all feel more secure in these relationships and more likely to be our true selves.   If we also felt these same people always had our back and were trustworthy through thick and thin, then we would be more likely to do the same for them and many of our natural fears would evaporate into the mist of self-imagination from where they came.  We would also be more able to handle any adversity that comes our way.  Finally, if we treated each interaction with our friends and family as if they truly mattered and would end one day, then maybe we wouldn’t get caught up in much of the “tit for tat” nonsense that permeates most long-term relationships and hinders our capacity for true mutual understanding and loving kindness.