I really do love all animals, worms, lizards even snakes & spiders. Although you won’t find me cuddling up on the couch with a spider anytime soon. Worms, maybe... I think they’re cuter. I do like to watch spiders, however, they’re fascinating. I watched a wolf spider act like a dog once, but that’s for another blog.
There is one animal that I have a love/hate relationship with and that's the shark... any kind of shark really, but primarily the great white shark like the mechanical version in the Jaws movies. My mother made me watch Jaws (the original) when I was very young, so consequently I have an irrational fear of sharks. I live in Montana and have never actually gone for a swim in the ocean, so that should tell you how irrational my fear is. In fact I’ve been known to have minor panic attacks in the bathtub on occasion... But I also respect sharks as amazing predators who have a specific place in the food chain. Anyway, I’m getting off topic a bit. Let’s get back to dogs.
My first dog, Molly, was a beautiful Shepherd/Lab mix who protected me from some very dangerous situations and even though I was only three years old, I loved her with all my heart. She was bigger than I was and I instinctively knew I was safe whenever I was near her. My grandparents and my mother have always had dogs. In fact I grew up around a menagerie of animals: dogs, horses, cats, turtles, turkeys, chickens, pigeons, love birds, rabbits, ferrets, cows, hamsters, gerbils, mice, guinea pigs, shetland ponies (not exactly a horse...smaller and with much more attitude), ducks, geese, bugs of all kinds. And as an adult, I’ve had my own dogs (now, Hairy), a cockatiel named Homer, a tiger salamander named Digger, four fire newts I just called “the boys” and some fish. PS, I am not good with fish.
I loved every single animal I’ve lived with. Even my grandpa’s duck “Quacker”, original right? And Quacker used to bite me in the butt every time I got near her. Now she was a grumpy duck! But I’ve never loved any of them like I’ve loved my dogs.
There are lots of reasons why I think dogs are so lovable, but here are a few.
Dogs live in the moment. Like little kids, and Buddha, dogs appreciate the beauty of being in the here and now. They don’t wonder if they’ll get to play ball on Thursday. They are just happy to be. Humans don’t generally operate this way. We fret and worry and plan and chide ourselves. It’s amazing that more of us aren’t a bit apesh*t! I might, in fact, be slightly apesh*t most of the time, but one moment with a dog can snap me out of it altogether. My dog Hairy is great at helping me with this. He's joyful and happy and hugs me all the time. One mischievous “tag you’re it” look from him and all my worries vanish as I chase him around the house or yard... depending on the season.
Dogs love to ride in the car. Well, most of them, although I've known a couple of dogs who were cursed with motion sickness so rides weren’t so pleasant for them. But for the most part, the only thing better is a raw steak. We’ve all seen dogs with their nose out the window breathing in the fresh air and sunshine, sometimes pacing around in the back seat from window to window. It’s like they can’t get enough. Like they're so excited, they can't sit still. I didn’t truly identify with this 4-wheel ecstasy until I got the Jeep. In the summer, when the top is off, I myself am essentially hanging out the window and feeling the wind in my hair and the bugs up my nose. It makes me ecstatic. You'd be surprised at how much more intense the experience is when you have no roof or doors between you and the open road. I find myself raising my face to the sun and smelling the air, just like Hairy. I absolutely love it. I always wonder what people think when they see the two of us doing this as we drive down the road. It must be a sight.
Dogs play. I’m going to take a little leap in logic here so stay with me, I’ll bring you back to my point in a moment. I’m considering moving out of the states for this very reason: dogs play. Why does that makes sense to me? Well, Americans work. There’s a line in Eat.Pray.Love from an Italian character who basically says that Americans know how to entertain or pre-occupy themselves, but they don’t know pleasure or basically... how to have fun. We don’t know what real joy is anymore. Everything has to have a purpose. We walk to “lose weight” not to enjoy walking or the journey or the birds singing on the trail or to admire the scenery... We walk to accomplish something. Quite frankly, I don’t even think American kids play for play’s sake anymore. I think we’d be a kinder, happier society if we listened to this lesson from dogs. Play for play’s sake. Do something fun because you just feel like it. Because it makes you joyful. Because you don’t have to “think” about it! Don’t set a timer... “okay, I’ve set aside 10 minutes to play, then back to work.” Do it spontaneously. And when you feel happy, jump up and down, hug someone, laugh even when its inappropriate. Play.
Dogs have heart. When I say heart, it’s actually a mixture of things: love, loyalty & courage. There are countless stories about dogs rescuing their owners and even dogs rescuing other animals. Dogs complete search and rescue missions all the time. And recently, there have been many stories about dogs in Iraq and Afghanistan who have saved the lives of our soldiers. Dogs love with every ounce they have. They can’t help it. They just do. They’ll risk their lives to protect us. Now, I know some readers will be saying something about dogs not having the capacity to understand the consequences of their actions, yada yada yada. They’ll say since they don’t understand they could die, or even understand what death is, that the actions are merely an instinctual reaction to threatening stimuli. I say POOP on that theory. Eloquent, right? If you’ve ever had a dog sit in your lap or on your feet... had one lick your face or bring you their ball... you know, instinct has nothing to do with it. They love because they have the capacity to trust. Another good “dog lesson”. I hope we can live up to it.
And finally, dogs forgive. A book came out a while ago that I think everyone should read. It’s called Oogie. It’s about a gentle pit bull. I know what some of you are thinking, but yes, it’s more likely than not. This soulful dog has a heartbreaking story and is finally a part of a beautiful, loving family. I’m not through the whole book yet, because I have to stop occasionally to cry. Yes, I know! I think the whole country knows about Michael Vick’s shameful and despicable dog fighting with pit bulls. And I think we all know that the problem is much bigger than Michael Vick. But what amazes me about Oogie’s story and the stories of other rescued abused dogs is that they can recover... they can love again. I think it’s a testament to the power of forgiveness. Oogie, who endured unspeakable trauma, both emotional and physical, loves his human family with everything he has. It’s not because he doesn’t know any better. In my opinion, it’s much bigger than that. Oogie had a choice to make. He had only experienced humanity’s cruelty and had no reason to trust another human again. But he didn’t hang onto that fear or that trauma. He forgave. Again, I think some people would say I’m giving way too much credit to dogs. They simply don’t think this hard. And to that I say, HOGWASH! But that’s really sort of my point. Let’s think about it for a minute. If every person you encountered beat you or starved you or tortured you, how easily would trust the next person you meet? If that’s all you knew, wouldn’t your “instinct” be to fear them or hide from them or even lash out at them? If dogs could utilize only their instincts, they simply wouldn’t bound, tail wagging to an unfamiliar person when all of the people up to that point were cruel and hurt them. Something inside of Oogie... a spark of hope, maybe... said this person could be different. And thank goodness, they were. There are times when I think forgiveness is even more powerful than love. I know it’s more powerful than hate. And I’ve seen it first hand. I haven’t met a dog as traumatized as Oogie or another fighting pit bull. But I have conducted midnight rescues of dogs who were terribly abused and I'm always amazed by the look in their eye when they see me. It’s fear and pain, yes, but there's also something else. Hope and love and “will you please help me”.
So, there it is. I love dogs. They are noble and good. They make me laugh and cry, but most of all, they fill my heart with joy and love. I prefer their company to most people and don’t be surprised if when I come to visit you, I sit on the floor with your dog instead of on the couch with you. I’m more comfortable that way. You know, I got a card once that said “May you become the person you’re dog already thinks you are.” Yes, may we all become that person.
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