Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dog Therapy

There has never been a time in my life when a dog has not been part of my life. To my way of thinking, they are not pets, they are family members. As family, each one has given me a lesson about life in one way or another.
My first "brother" was Rusty. He was in the family before I arrived, and left us when teen angst was just rearing its ugly head. He was a spaniel, brown and white, and always by my side. As an only child, I turned to him as my confidante and playmate. He loved everyone in the family equally, but he slept by my bed at night. On the day he died, I saw my father cry for the first time.
Soon to follow was my "sister" Mimi; she was a miniature poodle who lent an air of class to the family. I learned to share doggie companionship because she gave most of her loyalty to my mother. Mimi gave birth a couple of years later, and BonBon joined us from that litter. He added mischief to our household, and taught me patience - the hard way - with "siblings".
When I got married, my husband and I inherited a puppy from his parents' dachshund, Heidi. We named her Tasha. She was a miniature bundle of energy and smarts. Her antics would have me in stitches regularly; her quiet strength taught me respect for canine intuition and caring.
Throughout our married life, an assortment of "brothers" and "sisters" have joined the clan; not all were successful adoptions. We had the Irish setter; she couldn't be made to understand that you don't eat everything you come in contact with - she taught me that tolerance isn't always attainable. We had the cocker spaniel; he thought any wood surface, including the antique dining table was his to scratch and rest on - from him I learned a lot about woodworking! For the most part, though, we found ways to accept quirks, tempers, and strange behavior in general from our "furry family". After all, perfect people don't exist, but you adjust and love them anyway.
One of my closest "brothers" was Riley. He was an English setter, with black fur, soulful eyes, and a quiet nature who could be spurred to life if you threw his favorite toy. He understood me. He was a constant companion; nurse to me when I was ill, my bosom buddy to relate to when times were tough, and a foot warmer on cold nights. When he got old and cranky, my love for him never lessened. I was inconsolable when he passed away.
The comedian in the family was Sprocket, a bearded collie - a mass of gray and white hair and little brain. He was forever the child, always eager to explore and play, never quite comprehending the lessons of life. As a puppy, he lost one of his front teeth and so had a crooked smile, with his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. He was constantly slamming into walls, breaking things and wreaking havoc in the house due to his overenthusiasm. Because of him, I understand pure joy - and forgiveness.
And then there was Rascal, the lastest "brother" to depart this world, and the one who lived with me the longest and has left the most indelible memory of all. His wisdom was apparent from that Christmas day he came to stay. He wasn't much to look at; he'd been abandoned, then rescued by a neighbor who gave him to us, and his fur was growing back in after a bout with mange. He grew into a handsome hulk of black and white. But those eyes! He melted your heart with them, captured your soul with their intensity, and talked to you without needing words. Those eyes would speak to me daily; the bond we had was indescribable. After seventeen years, he told me I had to let him go. He accepted that his life with our family was complete. I wasn't ready to say goodbye - no one ever is when it's someone you love unconditionally - but I respected his decision. You learn that lesson time and again if you take dogs into your life.
Some people say that they could never have a dog because it would be too hard when they die. Or they have one dog, and when they pass away, the owner vows never to have another because it is too difficult. I think they miss the point; dogs enrich your life on every level. They create therapy for you that can be had no other way. They force you to learn lessons from someone who never speaks the way a human does. And, when they must depart, their silent lessons will have embraced your heart and mind, leaving you stronger, happier, more loving and wise.
I still miss all my "siblings" who have gone before me, but I wouldn't trade the years of therapy I had with them for anything.

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