Family Life

Dog People

A friend of mine with a brand new puppy at home recently posited that “dog people are the best people.” I heartily agreed, of course — I’m a ‘dog people’ too. But I wonder sometimes if dogs themselves aren’t the best people. Work with me on this one.

This morning, I’m ‘home alone.’ My husband is gone for the week — duty calls, and new software must be learned, and well, I’m a huge fan of his having a good job, so what else can I do? I hug him goodbye, wish him safe travel, and return to the empty house. Empty, except for all the assembled stuff. Empty, except for the four-legged, 12-yr-old member of the family who just might be the prime example of how we ought to live.

Lest ye worry that I’ve gone and cracked my head, fear not. I’m still possessed of my senses (save that brief moment there when I lapsed into some strange 16th century English), and fully realize that dogs are in fact, NOT human. Still — they can teach us some things.

1. Loyalty. Dogs remain true to their masters. They serve. They defend. They sound the alarm when visitors (both foreign and domestic) arrive. They trust. Even if they shouldn’t. Sure, they lack reasoning capabilities, (Ike goes for the hand switch trick every time), but that probably explains why they devote themselves to their owners. Sometimes we don’t deserve the unswerving loyalty of a good dog. And, oh, how loyalty appeals to our sense of worth. Hmmm…..

2. Obedience. Okay, our own dog is not a hugely obedient pup, but I fear that’s more our fault than his. When Ike was a brand new member of our family, my husband considered ‘obedience school’ unnecessary. I sure could have used the training. As the years rolled along, we realized our error. Still. Ike knows he’s not the boss. And he eventually does as commanded. My point is perhaps not well-illustrated with our own pooch, but well-schooled dogs obey. They know they’re not in charge, and do what they’re told. I think there is, in fact, a life lesson nestled in there…

3. Friendship. Dogs don’t talk back. They do offer companionship, comforting presence, and two listening ears. But they never offer unsolicited advice, sass, or condescension. Our own yellow Lab can’t tell me that my pants make my butt look fat (pretty sure it’s my butt that makes my butt look fat, not the pants!) and he can’t discuss the intricacies of Renaissance drama either, but he has offered a friendly face and the semblance of understanding while I lament my middle-aged spread or talk through my thesis’ premise. He’s there when I need him. That’s what friends are for…

4. Responsibility. Dogs are pack animals. They depend on the pack for leadership, companionship, shared duties and home-making of a sort. Ike relies on us for his care. We rely on him too — to be there when we come home. To be there when we wake up. To be there to clean up the food spills, fetch the balls and sticks, and nap quietly at our feet at the end of the day. They remind us we’re not alone, and that we have responsibilities beyond our own needs. We desperately need those reminders…

5. The measure of our days. The twelve years that Ike has been with us have brought the deaths of our parents, birthday celebrations, job changes, 9/11, the emptying of our nest, wars and rumors of wars, strengthened friendships, countless family dinners, new cars, a parade of girlfriends and even daughters-in-law, raucous laughter, the changing seasons. Those twelve years have aged us all of course. The years have brought about Ike’s decline. His years grow short, I fear. We’ve been witnessing the signs more regularly.

Walks tire the old guy out. His eyesight has dimmed. And, as it goes with the breed, his hips are weakening. Just this morning (after a walk that didn’t go so very well last evening), he slipped on our front porch step, front paws splayed as his back legs failed him. My heart caught in my throat. I’m not ready for this loyal, semi-obedient and delightfully constant companion to depart. He’s filled up our years with such friendship — he’s really the best people of the family. Teaching us our responsibilities, loving us unconditionally, making sure we’re never alone, or lonely.

He’s only a dog. But he’s part of the family. And he has taught us lessons about both. I don’t know with certainty that ‘dog people are the best people,’ but our dog invites me to learn from him. Go figure. It’s a dog’s life, after all?

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