Lessons From Dogs

As a child, I looked out the window on road trips, pretending to run alongside the car through the hills and yards. A lone German Shepherd inside the highway fence caught my eye one day. He was trotting along, looking forlorn. I begged my father to stop so we could catch the dog. I was terrified that he would be killed. We didn’t stop. That day on our return trip, I saw a dog carcass on the shoulder of the highway. I didn’t know if it was the same dog, or even the same area but the memory stayed with me. And the lesson – follow your instincts.

I’ve learned a lot from dogs.

My grandparents’ Newfoundland, Blackie, taught me about personal responsibility and holding up my end of the bargain. He had an easy life. He was even treated to a bowl of ice cream in front of the TV every night. But, spoiled as he was, he repaid my grandparents by treating them like royalty and being the best dog he could be.

A Black Lab named Shadow was my companion when I was eight. His participation in his owner’s hobby, duck hunting, turned my stomach. I was convinced that Shadow shared my distaste yet he performed his repugnant job with spunk and style. If Shadow could jump into an ice cold lake to retrieve a bloody murdered duck, I could clean the toilet without (too much) complaining.

I found Mr. Sweets in a neighbor’s yard, chained to a dog house. He was matted and flea ridden and adorable. A good grooming revealed a handsome Schnoodle. We renamed him Mr. Bojangles. His dedication as my willing sidekick helped me to become a better friend.

Trooper was a burly German Shepherd at my kennel job who liked to bite everyone but me. We had a special bond. When I visited him at his new position as a guard dog, he lunged at me and ripped the end of my sleeve. If I hadn’t been quicker, he’d have ripped off my arm. The lesson? Sometimes it’s best to leave the past behind.

Kali was born in a friend’s house at the end of the school year. I used the “she followed me home, can I keep her?” line, and it worked. By the end of the summer I learned the true meaning of devotion, as only a Shepherd could model. Her shamelessness, and friendship, and undying loyalty showed me that dogs have souls, too.

Kevvie, aka Kevlar, the Giant Schnauzer, was meant to be my police K9 partner but her heart wasn’t in it. The day she became entangled in a wayward rope with a terrified squirrel showed her true character. She squealed in pain as the frantic rodent bit her over 70 times on the face and neck in its efforts to escape. Instead of killing it with her massive jaws, she gently pulled it off each time. Still entangled, it attacked again and again until exhaustion rendered it helpless and I was able to cut them free. Kevvie was true to herself and kind to smaller creatures, gifts I admired and endeavored to possess.

Paxil, my current Lab, is an expert at pleasure, both giving and receiving, and at fun. Everything is her favorite. And she has the best stress management strategies: karaoke – howling at sirens, cheap aroma therapy – rolling in every vile, vomitous substance she can find, and soothing water therapy – splashing in the tub with a child. The lesson she expounds is that there’s good in everything if you look (or smell) long enough.

In addition to the lessons I’ve learned, my dogs have taught me about myself. I learned I am a loyal friend when I stood between Bojangles and an angry Doberman with gnashing teeth who outweighed me by ten pounds. I discovered that I am courageous, and foolhardy, the day I headed into a riptide to save Kevvie who was being sucked under and tossed about in terror. I was surprised by my strength of character when I defied the vet and insisted on staying with Kali when she was euthanized. And I wasn’t embarrassed when I brought friends home the day Paxil left half-eaten underwear in the living room and scattered the contents of the bathroom trash throughout the house.

My dogs have been building blocks in my life. The cats? They haven’t taught me anything, except maybe to mind my own business and keep the food dish filled.

Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com

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1 comment:

Carin said...

And I guess Ripley made your French better. Smile. That's a cool post.