What I’ve Learned From Dogs.
Doubtless the title of innumerable sappy coffee table books on the subject of love triumphing over all, and the unique value of canine relationships. While I’m sure that’s true and do not question the importance of Marley & Me as social commentary, I will endeavor not to write a condensed version of those books.
Instead, as I sit here next to a mess of an ancient Maltese with exactly 3 green teeth in his head, short about a third of his body weight, dropped off at a shelter with black matts (he’s a white dog), I will write a different post. This is not my first rodeo. I am no longer all that appalled by his condition. I’ve taken dogs with grapefruit sized tumors. Dogs with chronic untreated allergies so bad they experienced permanent hair loss. Dogs treated so poorly for so long they no longer have any real interest in human contact. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. More than we’d all care to admit.
Sure, my experience with dogs has taught me important life lessons. Things like patience, humility, forgiveness and perseverance.
They’ve also taught me that people suck. I know, that’s pessimistic. However, we all have failings. Lots of them. How is it, we all ‘ooooh’ and ‘awe’ over puppies and kittens and Animal Planet anything, and somehow there is an unlimited supply of people in this country who will routinely mistreat an animal. Who will let it go un-fed, un-brushed, and un-vetted. Then they will make the results of that someone else’s problem. Sure, “stuff happens”, doo-doo occurs. Call it life, whatever.
Luckily, there is a whole network of people who clean up those messes. The unfortunate fact of the matter is though, we are out numbered. The supply of not just homeless dogs, but grossly mistreated and neglected dogs, it is endless. If you talked to anyone on the street, they would be outraged by the condition of my new little foster buddy here. They would express disgust and probably proclaim “Who could do that!?!” Because we all think this is unusual. I’m here to tell you, it’s really not. This happens every day. I could fill my house and yours with only extreme hard luck cases. It would be super easy. When you hear about the next mistreated animal, don’t be shocked. This is just the one you’ve heard about. The transcendent message here: People will mess up. They will crash cars. They will misplace paperwork. They will let dogs go hungry. You can focus on raging against that reality, or you can be the one to pick up the pieces. Bringing us to…
Almost everything can be fixed. Almost. The elderly little canine now known as Ford feels much better already. In a few weeks, after regular meals, he will be a new man. Maybe then we can see about fixing those last few teeth. Or maybe not because the damage to his bone structure is so severe that dental surgery could very likely break his jaw. I can’t fix that. I can not imagine what he went through to get to the condition he was in. He obsessively examines every little speck of anything on the floor to determine whether or not its food. He will eat it even if it’s not food. Given his body condition, I can only theorize how he came up with that habit. There is nothing I can do about that either, except give it time. I don’t know how long it took him to get this way. Even if I did, again, can’t do a thing about it. Focus on what you can control and remedy; meals on the regular, baths, vets, cleanliness. Pick your battles, and in the course of doing so, hope that other issues correct themselves. I’ve found they usually do in so many situations.
You can pick your family. Contrary to the old adage, we are so very fortunate in that we can choose who we spend our time with, how we spend it, and how we define family. Clearly dogs don’t have this choice, and often they suffer for it. Yet, they were my first example of the principle. For us, time spent on a couch full of dogs reading or watching TV, that is family time. There is no fighting or carrying on (we won’t have it). Only long contented sighs, and the enjoyment of being together. I model many of the relationships I choose after similar activities. Who’s presence am I comfortable in? Who do I just enjoy spending time with? Even teeny-tiny Ford is tickled to be part of the group, as most of our foster dogs have been. Cultivate your life around the relationships you find most fulfilling, even (or perhaps especially) if they seem simple and uncomplicated.
It’s not world peace. These are not groundbreaking. I haven’t received any Hollywood inquiries about the rights to our story. Some people would say time spent on damaged dogs is a waste of money, resources, time. As you might imagine, I’d disagree. On many levels. Even if it’s not all unconditional love and roll-y pole-y puppies, there are applicable lessons nonetheless.