I always wanted a dog. I’m not sure where my love of animals or my deep devotion to dogs came from. No one else in my family showed any interest in having a pet. My mother is downright afraid of dogs. Maybe it was spending too much time in front of the TV watching Lassie and reruns of the Littlest Hobo. For whatever reason, I desperately wanted a dog of my own.
It took me years to talk my first husband into getting a dog. Before his final capitulation allowed me the bliss of getting my first canine companion, I talked to many dog owners about dogs. From these conversions, I garnered information on dog behavior. One insight I was given is that a dog is like goldfish. A goldfish swimming laps around its bowl and expressing surprise at seeing the same castle each and every time it sees it,.”Oh! Look a Castle!”
Like goldfish, dogs live in the moment, a trait I wish I possessed. Too often we humans get bogged down by the past. We let bad experiences weigh on our mind and color our view of the world. Often we carry the burden of the bad experiences of others. We sit glued to the TV or internet absorbing the gritty details of fresh horrors for hours each and every day. We heed the warnings of the talking heads and install another set of on locks our doors when we hear of new home invasions or robberies. We are mesmerized by images of the tragedy suffered by others. Under the heavy mantle of despair we carry, we have lost the joy of living.
Dogs do not carry this despair or burden. The exceptions, of course, are those that have been severely abused.
Dogs do have a memory and are masters at learning tricks and recognizing routines. Somehow they have been able to pair that with the joy of living in the moment. Take a dog that loves to retrieve a ball, his joy at retrieving it for the fifth time is no less than his joy at the first time. The happy expression on a dog’s face is not diminished when you give them the third treat. The turn-themselves-inside-out greeting you receive when you return home from work does not change from Monday to Friday. When our dog Moe is prancing with joy at being the fed the same food we have fed him twice a day for years, it is clear he is saying “Oh good! Dog food again.”
I think that this “living in the moment” joy dogs feel may be the reason that dogs who have been abused can be rehabilitated. They can and often find joy and happiness in new homes. Dogs do not lose hope. Dogs do not lose the ability to feel joy. We shouldn’t either.
I remember the long lazy days of summer from my childhood. Days stretched on and on; months had no end in sight. They stretched beyond the horizon. I have a vivid memory from when I was six years old. I was in school and we were drawing pictures to celebrate the New Year. It was the dawn of 1964. I was enthralled by the thought that a year had passed since the last New Year celebration. I was totally convinced that this special event was a rarity. I felt honored that I was there to celebrate such an auspiscious event.
As I progressed from childhood, where time was an endless gift, to the rocky teenage years, time became a curse. As with most adolescents I could not grow up fast enough. I felt trapped. First I longed for the time when I would be old enough to be left home alone, unsupervised. Next I longed for the time when I would be old enough to drive. Driving was an adult activity. Driving was freedom. The final mark of adulthood was drinking and going to bars. As an angst driven teenager, I felt I would never achieve that final adult status. The hours on the clock ticked by at a snail’s pace; the pages on the calendar were stuck, failing to turn.
Finally in my long-awaited adulthood, the awkward teens safely behind me, time once again became my friend. I felt I had it all. The world was full of endless possibilities, which I could tackle at a time of my choosing. My twenties turned into my thirties. The dreaded celebration of turning thirty stood as a milestone, a hint that time was a fickle friend.
In a blink of an eye my thirties turned into my forties. For the first time in my life I was looking back, longing for the lost days of my younger years. I longed to put the brakes on time, to somehow slow the now racing hands of the clock. I needed the opportunity to linger over the events in my life. Instead I was rewarded with only flashing images. Images of my son struggling to learn how to read, mixed with images of him learning how to drive. I wanted to warn him. I wanted to tell him to slow down and to not waste the precious youth that he carried as a burden.
Now as my fifties are quickly sliding into my sixties, I realize that it has happened. Time has become the enemy. Time is a thief. It steals. It steals family. It steals friends. It has stolen beloved pets. Time is no longer gentle. It is full of harsh realities. It no longer stretches to infinity. It is finite.
As I read through various blog posts, mostly those that revolve around dogs, envy raises its ugly head. I am envious that they contain such beautiful, insightful pictures of dogs. There are posts loaded with pictures of dogs sleeping, running, jumping, stealing food, playing with other dogs, posing in clothing and glasses. Pictures of dogs at their most dog-like self and pictures of dogs at their most human-like self.
Not for the first time, I am struck with how out of step with the rest of the world I am. It is patently obvious that normal people have cameras as built-in extensions of their hands. If not, they would never be able to get the money shot of their dog stealing the cupcake carelessly left on the table. If a camera was not such an integral part of them, their dogs would not be so comfortable posing for all those charming photos.
And so I vowed to have my camera ready for action. I would join the rest of the world. I would chronicle my life and my dogs in pictures. For days I left the camera on the kitchen counter. I tried to take pictures of the dogs constantly so that they would become comfortable having the camera pointed at them. Their photo’s would no longer look like mug shots. When the perfect picture-taking moment came I would be ready. I would spring into action.
So when Moe courageously stole the spatula off the kitchen counter, then his escape got foiled by the closed door to the back yard – I failed. I didn’t jump into action. I didn’t get the photo. In my defense, I was too busy laughing at his predicament. The picture of him, spatula clamped in his mouth, looking from the closed door to me, then back to the closed door, and back at me, is embedded in my mind. Those eyes. Were they pleading with me to ignore the spatula and open the door or were they pleading with me not to be mad at such a little transgression? It is an image only I am privileged to see.
I am out of step. It just may be too late to teach this old dog a new trick.
It starts with the little things. The tiny puppy too small to jump onto the couch or bed. The brave ones will struggle until they find a way to conquer their personal Mount Everest. So it was with Moe. It didn’t take the small bundle of energy long to figure out how to climb onto the couch. The bed was another matter.
Moe would run, take the leap of faith required, then find himself splayed, legs wide open, in a face plant on the side of the mattress. My husband and son took pity on the little guy and tried to teach him to jump. They would start in the hallway, or across the room from the bed. Encouraging Moe every step of the way, they would run to the edge of the bed, crying out “Jump, jump!” Moe spurred on by the cheering section would run and jump, landing face embedded in the side of the bed.
Time to revise the training method. The beginning was the same run to the bed. The change in strategy was that while yelling out “jump” they would aid Moe by boosting his butt up until he landed on the bed. After a few weeks of intensive training, and a growth spurt, we witnessed the results. Now a fearless Moe would bound towards the bed, jump and land with his front legs sprawled on the bed, his back legs firmly grounded on the floor. Here’s were the training kicked in, he would then turn and look at my husband or son, clearly stating “this is where you lift my butt up onto the bed”.