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A Cat Woman Learns About Dogs
Cats have always been my animal. Well, horses too. In some ways I’m a girly stereotype, at least as determined by my preference for animals.
It’s not that I didn’t like dogs. I have always enjoyed them, and even retain a strong attraction to German Shepherds, despite being rather viciously attacked by one when I was just three. My only distinct memory of that event was the sight of my dad’s shirt turning from white and brown plaid to red as he ran with me over 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 a kinship with other animals at other times in my life and pay close attention when a particular species makes repeated appearances over the course of a few days or weeks. i love the book Animal Speak, 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 on our path to inner knowledge. The medicine comes to us through the spirits who greet us in the form of the hawk, falcon, bear, heron, deer, or coyote. And much more.
But for me, 2013 so far has been very much about the dogs. Through a series of circumstances, I have spent a lot of time with them. Different dogs. I have moved around a lot and ended up, several times, living with, knowing, 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 won their way into my consciousness and heart.
So what are the animal magic dogs brought me? I have thought about this.
Live the moment
A dog forgets the full bladder at dawn, the hungry belly when human dinner is cooked 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 lost forever and now is everything. The smell of my flip flop. The flicker of laughter out on the sidewalk. The sight of a loved one. The feeling of fingers scraping under a tilted chin. The dog’s senses for the moment override all others. The past has no meaning. The future doesn’t exist yet, so why bother?
A dog’s forgiving nature is about living in the moment, as I see it. The two dogs I now live with and take care of, Nico (a poodle) and Chini (a lab mix), are dear, loving souls who love nothing more than to roam the woods with me, bask in the sun at my feet While I’m reading a book, lie across from me as I watch TV and scratch the sweaty ones. They have accepted me into their lives as a surrogate mom that they really like. Sometimes I have to let them go. Life happens. I should try not to leave them for more than 5 hours at a time if possible, and if I have to, ask a neighbor for help. One day, I got stuck. Furious, I watched three hours, past my deadline. When I finally got into the street, I heard them barking. Clearly I wasn’t the only one feeling frantic. I ran at top speed through the house, pet Nico who was literally jumping 4 feet off the ground, freed Chini from the crate (Nico doesn’t go in the crate), apologizing the whole time. The dogs would not leave the house to relieve their bladders until they had licked me, numbed me, received my love in return. There was no cynical acuity. No fuss (I mean, admit it – a cat will purr). No stopping. Just love, and complete forgiveness as the past was forgotten and the moment of love and release was cherished.
My friend Terri has a few dogs. Five, to be exact. Two laboratories. A bull dog. An Australian Silkie. A mix of Chihuahua, Greyhound and something else. Somehow, it all works. Scout, one of the labs, is one of the most long-suffering, calm, steadfast beasts in the universe. He will lie on the floor while Lily, the mixed dog, inexplicably hunches his head with abandon. He will roam the grounds with Daisy, the terrier, who is 10 times his size. Are they running? he waits; Daisy finally catches up. they run a little longer. They always come home together. Rosie the bulldog has a temper. Scout refuses to be angered. Granted, he’s not so patient when it comes to feeding time, but he’s a dog after all.
Body, a very tall Standard Poodle with floppy eyes and melting eyes, every day like a king, legs neatly lined up, waiting for his mom, my old friend Annie, to come home. He waits all day. Sometimes he sleeps on the couch. (He takes up half of that, but when he wants to fit in there with two or more people, he can curl up into a remarkably small package.) This hippie dog’s heart is as huge as of Gandhi or Mother Teresa. While I was there for a two week visit, Body he tuned me in remarkably quickly. He sensed my sorrow, and in a compromise born of his own empathy, left his mother’s bed in the middle of the night to sleep in mine. He didn’t do that at first, but after he got to know me and care about me, it became part of his love action plan. Did he ask for anything 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 demand. They may ask for pets and certainly see fit to feed them on occasion, but in the scheme of things, they give a lot more than they get.
It’s true that dogs can be pretty stupid. They don’t have the scrupulous standards of a cat. Dogs will roll in rotting raccoon guts. They will make a scene, barking hysterically at a floating leaf. But now I see these behaviors as appealing in their unbridled enthusiasm for life. Bella, a Swiss Mountain Dog, was owned by 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 recent death. Bella could be pretty crazy. Eating chocolate, reading glasses, underwear and various other unorthodox, unhealthy and indigestible items. But somehow, whatever mischief she got into, Bella had an inherent dignity. She embodied the qualities of forgiveness, unconditional love, living in the moment and endless patience for the other dogs in her family as well. But it was her dignity in the face of adversity that struck me in the end as she gradually gave up on life. Although she wasn’t in terrible pain, she grew thinner, swaying more as the tumors spread throughout her body. Breathing was not always easy and it hurt to walk. But she woke up every morning to walk the gardens with her mom, waited for her girls to come to say goodbye, and left life on her own terms.
Embracing the dog lessons in my life is the task I struggle with this year 2013. I can’t ignore the future and even though my mind occasionally turns it off, the past still holds me strong. I can forgive easily, except most importantly forgiving myself, although I am getting better at it. Patience. That’s good. My record is insignificant there. As a teacher, I could use some patience. Patience goes hand in hand with forgiveness in some ways, doesn’t it? And maybe unconditional love, too. Something easy to feel for one’s children – so hard to feel for oneself. And finally, I seek my own dignity in the face of glaring failures and mistakes. “Be patient, forgive and love yourself,” I hear the dogs telling me, “and live for today. Isn’t today wonderful? And aren’t you lucky to have it?”
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