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A Cat Woman Learns About Dogs
Cats have always been my pet. Well, and horses. In some ways I am a stereotypical girlie, at least as identified by my preferences for animals.
It’s not that I didn’t like dogs. I have always liked and even had a strong attraction to German Shepherds, despite the fact that I was badly attacked by one when I was only three years old. My only distinct memory of that event was the sight of my father’s shirt turning from white and brown check to red as he ran with me on his shoulder from Central Park to the nearest doctor’s office. However, my brother-in-law’s shepherd, Miles, was one of my favorite people.
I feel an affinity for other animals at other times in my life, and I pay attention when a particular species appears repeatedly over several days or weeks. i love the book Animals talk, by Ted Andrews. He writes about animal medicine and advises his reader to remain alert to the lessons that can be learned and what clues are to be found to help us walk our path to inner knowing. Medicine comes to us through the spirits that greet us in the form of a hawk, skunk, bear, heron, deer or coyote. And many others.
But for me, 2013 so far has been very much about the dogs. Under a variety of circumstances, I spent a lot of time. Different dogs. I’ve moved around a lot and ended up, several times, living, dating, taking care of dogs.
I have fallen in love with them. My heart is melted by dogs. Even dogs that are complete strangers, that I met while visiting a dog park with my sister and her puppy, Dexter, have entered my consciousness and heart.
So what have the magical animal dogs brought me? I’ve been thinking about it.
Live in the moment
A dog forgets the full bladder at dawn, the hungry belly when the human dinner is cooking and no one has yet managed to feed it, the hours of neglect in favor of the laptop, the washing machine or the lawnmower. For a dog, history is gone forever and now it’s everything. The smell of my flipping. The shaking of laughter outside on the sidewalk. The appearance of a favorite person. The feeling of fingers scraping under a tilted chin. A dog’s momentary feelings override everything else. The past is meaningless. The future doesn’t exist yet, so why bother?
A dog’s forgiving nature is all about living in the moment, as I see it. The two dogs I live with and care for now, Nico (a poodle) and Chini (a lab mix), are kind, loving souls who love nothing more than to roam the woods with me, fall in the sun on my feet while reading a book, lounging while watching TV and scratching them with scratches. They have accepted me into their lives as a surrogate mother that they like very much. Sometimes I have to leave them. Life happens. I’ll try not to leave it for more than 5 hours at a time if possible, and enlist the help of a neighbor if I have to. One day I got stuck. Frantic, I watched three hours straight, over my deadline. When I finally got out into the street, I heard them barking. Clearly I wasn’t the only one feeling frantic. I ran at full speed into the house, pet Nico who was literally jumping 4 feet off the ground, let Chin out of the crate (Nico doesn’t fit in the crate), apologizing horribly the whole time. The dogs wouldn’t leave the house to relieve their bladders until they licked me, choked me, got my love in return. There was no dog irritation. There is no dullness (I mean, admit it – a cat is going to be sharp). No attitude. Just love, and plain forgiveness, as the past was forgotten and the moment of love and release was cherished.
My friend Terri has several dogs. Five, to be exact. Two laboratories. A bull dog. An Australian silk. A mix of Chihuahua, Greyhound and something else. Somehow, it all works. Scout, one of the labs, is one of the most patient, calm and indomitable animals in the universe. He will lie on the floor while Lily, the mixed breed dog, inexplicably hangs her head in abandon. He will roam the sprawling property with Daisy, the terrier, who is 10 times his size. They run; he waits; Daisy eventually arrives; they run a little more. Invariably, they come home together. Rosie the bulldog has a temper. Scout refuses to be fooled. Admittedly, he’s not that patient when it’s around his meal, but he’s a dog after all.
Bodhi, an extra-tall standard poodle with shaggy hair and melting eyes, every day like a king, legs well planted, waiting for his mom, my old friend Annie, to come home. He waits all day. Sometimes he sleeps on the sofa. (He takes up half of it, but when he wants to fit in there with two or more people, he can hunker down into an extremely small package.) This hippie dog’s heart is so big that of Gandhi or Mother Teresa. While I was there for a two-week visit, Bodhi tuned in with me extremely quickly. He sensed my sadness and in a compromise born of his sensitivity, left his mother’s bed in the middle of the night to sleep in mine. He didn’t at first, but after he got to know me and care for me, it became part of his love action plan. Did he ask for something in return? Not really. But he took my undying love. Bodhi loves unconditionally. Dogs know how to do this. They do not question, criticize, doubt or search. They may seek out pets and certainly find it convenient to feed on occasion, but in the scheme of things, they give far more than they get.
It’s true that dogs can be pretty stupid. They don’t have the exacting standards of a cat. Dogs will roll in rotting raccoon guts. They will make a scene, barking hysterically at a leaf that floats by. But now I see these behaviors as endearing in their unbridled enthusiasm for life. Bella, a Swiss Mountain Dog, belonged to my friend Teri for ten years. I met her the day she came home with Teri and her two daughters and knew her all her life until her final death. Bella can be pretty crazy. Eating chocolate, reading glasses, underwear and a variety of other unorthodox, unhealthy and indigestible items. But somehow, no matter what mischief she got into, Bella had inherent dignity. She embodied the qualities of forgiveness, unconditional love, living in the moment and endless patience even for the other dogs in her family. But it was her dignity in the face of adversity that struck me in the end, as she gradually passed away. Although she wasn’t in excruciating pain, she grew weaker, wobbled more as the tumors spread throughout her body. Breathing wasn’t always easy and it hurt to walk. But she woke up every morning to walk the gardens with her mother, waited for her daughters to come to say goodbye, and left life on her own terms.
Embracing the teachings of the dogs in my life is the task I am facing this 2013. I cannot ignore the future and although my mind occasionally erases it, the past still has a strong hold on me. I can forgive easily, except that it is more important to forgive myself, although I am getting better at it. Patience. This is a good one. My record is tarnished there. As a teacher, I could use some patience. Patience goes with forgiveness in some ways, doesn’t it? And maybe even unconditional love. Something easy to feel for one’s children – so hard to feel for oneself. And finally, I seek my dignity in the face of scandalous failures and mistakes. “Be patient, forgive and love yourself,” I hear the dogs tell me, “and live for today. Isn’t today wonderful? And aren’t you lucky to have it?”
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