In my life there have been amazing dogs. They are in the Pure Joy part of life, so when they are gone it is a palpable absence. Little bunny’s post on what she is experiencing with fostering Luna reminds me what I have learned from my dogs.
1. Loyalty. Our “$5 mutt” Taffy ran beside my sister or me (off leash in those days) to my friends’ houses after school. She sat near the back door and waited until time to go home. One day one of us left by the front door and walked home without Taffy (!!). She refused to leave the yard without us.
2. Unconditional love. My first own dog was Rallo, a protective yet gentle Norwegian Elkhound I got in college. You don’t accept unconditional love from your parents until much later. Rallo helped me grow up in the rollercoaster that comes with graduation, new marriage, and new jobs. Years later I still recall my nose buried in the back fur of her neck, crying over whatever.
3. The cost of even tiny bits of carelessness. One of my most terrifying days was when Rallo got out of the back yard and got lost. We looked for her all day, finding people who had seen her very far from home. In the early evening, I stood looking out the back window to the yard with the open gate, hopeless and grieving, and there I saw her exhausted paws sticking out from under a bush. Rallo ushered life with children, letting Katy crawl all over her without complaint.
4. Some things are inborn and we just have to accept. Then came Sweep, a goofy bearded collie with the strongest herding desire ever. Unfortunately, his herding also came with a piercing bark. He chased butterflies and raced around the swing set in a mad dash when the girls were on it, barking constantly.
5. Dog relationships are built on acceptance as well as love. Sweep and I were never really on the same page. I was busy with babies, missing my Rallo, and annoyed by the barking. So I was never Sweep’s person. He preferred my ex-husband, who was excellent in training him and was totally devoted. Sweep went on to be a wonderful dog with that kind of love and dedicated training.
6. An optimistic outlook and enthusiasm makes happiness, not the reverse. Molly, my wonderful Golden Retriever, had unbounded optimism and happiness. To every day she contributed enthusiasm. Molly was the essence of innocence, and I felt fiercely protective of her lovely spirit, an interesting role reversal. I think that I connected her nature somehow to Abby, which came out in calling Abby “Molly” and sometimes the reverse. I confess, little bunny, but it is because I see these same qualities in you.
7. A dog teaches freedom of spirit and how to approach friendship. Molly had no fear of anything. She would retrieve endlessly in a thunderstorm. She believed every person and dog was a friend. (The cat surprised her, however.) She was willing to look beyond everything superficial and find the love in everyone. Molly taught me what a dog friend really is.
8. Every dog relationship requires knowledge of how to communicate. Molly wanted only to be where we were. I learned from Molly also that I had a lot more to learn about being a good trainer, and that if I had been, she could have had accompanied us in more outings. This is a regret that I should have done better.
9. The reward of a being a dog friend is priceless. In her twelfth year, after I had to learn to walk again after a badly broken leg, she heeled up and down the hall with me, me with my cane, as if giving encouragement. She never forgot how to heel perfectly (when she wanted).
It is still hard to write this, coming on two years since she died. I still look at her picture on the wall and say Good Night, Molly.
10. Early damage of a dog’s sensitive spirit is unforgivable. Bob, Katy’s dog, lived with us for four years, which made him a family dog too. A rescued Golden with great capacity to love and passionately devoted to Katy, Bob was damaged tragically by abuse early in his life and never could recover, regardless of the incredible love and training that Katy poured into it. From Bob I learned how early experience is permanent, and that sometimes there is no real rescue – a lesson learned with the deepest hurt because of how that affected Katy.
11. Every good thing lies in being present to the moment. Neka my bright star of a dog now, amazingly smart and loving. Neka is teaching me all the best things, finally, about both being the best dog friend and helping her to be that, too — How to play and stay in the moment with it, how to add to the happiness in play since she was less confident in the beginning. Neka is teaching me everything about working together with a dog and making it fun, so that she will happily participate. Yet I am still learning about her since it is early yet in our history. And, I don’t want this to go too fast.