Five Things My Dog Taught Me About Life
Lucy Laine turned 13 years old in July. This summer she was diagnosed with severe arthritis, called a geriatric dog by her vet, and had a mast cell tumor removed from her hip. Sure, she enjoys her rest in front of the fireplace. But just this afternoon she was running around in my leaf piles. And last week, when we received 12" of snow in October, her enthusiasm made all the shoveling worthwhile.
Lucy likes frisbees and tennis balls okay. But what she loves, and will not stop doing unless we make her, is chasing snowballs. We throw them with a tennis ball launcher. And she just runs back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes we let her catch one but that’s not the point of the game.
She has to return the tennis ball, the frisbee, or the stick. The snowball just disappears and magically reappears. There is no purpose in her joy.
My joy always had to be useful in some way: hiking is exercising, gardening is producing flowers, writing is, well, writing. This year I rediscovered dancing as my frivolous joy and I highly recommend finding your own source. And not taking this whole life-thing so seriously all.the.time.
Responsibility of Caring
Mr. Laine and I don’t have any two-legged, non-furry children. Caring for a dog confirmed beyond all doubt that this was the right choice for us. If even the demands of an (overall pretty undemanding) dog can sometimes make us feel tethered, inconvenienced, and restricted, we never had any business caring for a tiny human being. How important, then, to at least submit to the responsibility of caring for an animal that depends on us and lives on her own schedule.
Loving someone exactly as they are
Usually, we talk about how dogs teach us about unconditional love because that’s what they give. I, however, had to learn to love her unconditionally, too. Lucy is, in many ways, a super easy dog. She doesn’t chew things up, loves driving in the car, sleeping in tents, playing with kids, and hanging out with other humans. She does not love other dogs. When we adopted her from the shelter, we were asked to keep her as an only dog. There was some traumatic history.
I thought I could heal her from her reactiveness to other dogs. We tried all the trainers and all the methods. It got better for a while but then it got a lot worse. I resented her, myself, other dog owners, other dogs. Until one of the trainers from the local Humane Society told me that I hadn’t failed her. That I was still a good dog owner and Lucy was a good dog, living a good life. It’s not what I had dreamed of. No more off-leash walks around the local trails. No more fun at the bark park. But while I was dreaming of things to be different, I was missing out on all the good times we could be having.
Accepting her exactly as she is, loving her without having to change what she needs, was a big step in learning to do the same for friends, family members, basically all other humans. Loving myself unconditionally — still a work in progress.
Asking for what she needs
Lucy lets us know when she needs something: food, exercise, attention, a toy, a backrub. She taught us the language in which she is making these demands. She doesn’t apologize for inconveniencing us (and of course we go out of our way to never inconvenience her).
Being clear about what I need and not apologizing in advance for needing anything at all has definitely made my life better and easier.
Getting old without giving a shit
Getting gray? Saggy cheeks? Arthritis? Cancer? She can’t be bothered with any of that. Give her a river or some snow, a piece of cheese, a stuffed animal, and a fireplace: life is good.