He came as a 3 week old ball of fur that could fit into the palm of my hand. Close to near starvation, he still prioritized wagging his tail for me over finding some food for himself. It was love at first sight, if you don’t believe in love at first sight, get a dog. I had him for 12 years. That meant hundreds of chewed up shoes thrown away, bagfuls of dog hair coated clothes discarded, buckets of dog poop scooped up, daily barking sprees suffered and an entire childhood spent smelling like, well, a dog.
It’s a big responsibility and a huge pain, no amount of puppy eyes can sugar coat that fact of life. Another grudging fact of life is that somewhere in between the poop scooping and mindless barking, they change you. They mend your heart and grow your mind. They make you believe in the goodness of life and the beauty of the world. Heck, they even give you faith. All those lofty ideas that we roll our eyes at, they make them a reality. They sit there grossly licking themselves, and all the while, your world changes.
My dog was the best living being I ever knew. Here are a few things he taught me, a few things that these dirty furry creatures unknowingly teach their families (Yes, that’s a ‘he’, not an ‘it’, they are people, and they are better than most people).
1. They teach you forgiveness
You forget to feed them, they lick you. You forget to walk them, they lick you. You may not have a single second for them the entire day but at the first tired glance you accidentally give them, they lick you. Imagine getting that kind of complete forgiveness and acceptance every single day.
Imagine living with the absolute certainty that no matter what you do and who you become, there is always this little ‘creature-person’ who will accept you with a thumping tail and happy barks (also unfortunately a very wet gross tongue that manages to find your nose every single time). When you get that kind of acceptance, you begin to give it as well. Just a little bit though, we are after all mere humans, can’t compete with a dog.
2. They teach you love, crazy real fearless love
They love you like that. This is a dog’s logic – she played with me, so now, when required, I will die for her. The most ridiculous thought process ever, the most amazing way to love ever. They teach you how to let your guards down and love someone with all you’ve got. Without fear, without conditions and with complete vulnerability.
It’s not just how they love you, but also how you end up loving them. When you have a dog you know he will probably go before you, in fact you hope that he does, so that he always has you to take care of him. But then, you end up loving someone with your full heart, knowing full well that they will pass away before you. You open yourself to love with the knowledge that it will hurt one day. That’s the kind of love this world needs, that kind of strong, unconditional, courageous love. A dog teaches you that.
3. They make you less cynical
It’s a complicated world, demanding and selfish, difficult to remain childlike and optimistic. Not so much if you have an irritating four legged friend whose only aim in life is to make you throw the ball. Every morning when you have a hundred things on your to do list the only thing on their to do list is ‘wag tail, lick this guy’. Every night when you are dead tired and completely frustrated with the boss, they just cluelessly prance about doing their happy little dance because you are back home.
I dare you to stay cynical in the face of that! Just try to behave like an adult while playing tug of war with a dog; you will be 5 years old in less than 5 seconds. Their innocence and pointless happiness is contagious. Their undying optimism that any second someone will play with them teaches you how to hope, how to stop being negative and just smile. Just throw the ball and smile.
4. They make you strong
He got old and quietly passed away one night. The next day we buried him and I went to work. I didn’t mention it to most people for fear that they wouldn’t really understand my pain. It was just a dog. Just a dog, but even in his passing he made me stronger. Facing his absence prepared me to face life better. If you have been through that, you can go through a lot.
People tell me they don’t want to keep a dog because they don’t want to go through the pain of loss. It’s not pain, its strength. It’s not loss; it’s the gain of priceless memories. It’s not a tragedy you go through, it’s just life and it makes you grow up. Let a child love and lose a pet, the adult would be an infinitely stronger and better human being.
As a child I remember being asked what I want to be when I grow up. My answer was ‘a dog’. It sounded really stupid and I got quite a few laughs. It still sounds really stupid, I’l give you that, but it’s still true. Call me crazy, but if we could have one tenth the good qualities of those perpetual ‘tail waggers’ and chronic ‘face lickers’, this world would be a happier, safer place.
So next time you see a homeless tail wagging at you, think about it, really think about bringing him home. It makes home more home, it makes us more human.