October 3, 2009

Life Lessons from Dogs

You wouldn't believe the extraordinarily profound lessons I've learned from the many dogs who have dug, trampled plants, chased cats, scampered and barked their way through my family's life.

First and foremost - and just about everyone who has ever had a dog knows this - you learn about Unconditional Love and Loyalty. My son's first pet, a Japanese spitz named Cookie, amply demonstrated these traits. Noel, then 10, was her master and she was extremely devoted to him. Noel could do no wrong, and even when he scolded her for making poo or pee where she wasn't supposed to, she was still loyal to him, following him around like a loyal page his prince. Once she had ascertained Noel's whereabouts, she would position herself close by and snuggle comfortably, content that her master was within sight. If Noel went to the bathroom, she'd stand by the door like the Sphinx until he went out.

At night, she would sleep in Noel's bedroom which adjoined ours. We would keep the door between our rooms open, so that his bedroom could also be cooled by the big aircon in our room. How loyal was she to Noel? In the middle of the night whenever she needs to pee outside, do you think she wakes up her master? She goes to our bedroom, stands on hind legs and with her paw, tugs at my sleeping husband, who of course wakes up and has no choice but stand up and let Cookie out of the room!

Another lesson you learn is about Perseverance. We used to keep two groups of mongrels in the adjacent lots. How they manage to sneak out of their respective barracks to get to freedom - and the joy of chasing cars - is truly a study in perseverance. The group at the side lot digs through and soil and hollow blocks under the gate; the ones at the back, especially the most persevering of them named Juday, through a high jump. Or could it be that she could almost "fly"? Imagine this scenario: I'm seated on the Lazy Boy in our living room, watching TV. The sliding door made of wood and glass (the lower-half portion being wood and the upper-half, glass) is closed. As I'm seated there, relaxing, I look at the glass portion of the door and see a dog suspended in mid-air! It's Juday making her leap to freedom over the fence!

Noel's second spitz Cupcake taught us about Compassion and Grief. She became sick with parbo. If you've know what it's like to love a pet you will know how it feels when you see her crouched under the bed, unable to eat and too weak to move, that you have to administer dextrose to her. And to see the look of utter helplessness and sadness in her eyes, as if beseeching you to do something to help her, can be quite gut-wrenching. Especially because you know - because the vet told you - that there's no more hope. All you can do is try to make her as comfortable as possible.

And then when the next time you find her all stiff, what's to keep you from crying? The thought that at least now she's at peace and gone to her Maker? I cried till my eyes dried out, but my son did more than that. He locked himself inside his room and wouldn't go out despite repeated knocks at the door. But I knew he must have been crying because his response was choked and barely audible. When he finally came out after a few hours, he had with him a beautiful sketch he had just made of Cupcake. It was his way of dealing with the loss.

Sometime ago, I had a sudden insight from observing Wowie, another dog who used to patrol the vacant lot at the back. He was all alone at that time, because his partner Juday - the one who could "fly" - was more relentless in pursuing freedom, and had made one last fatal escape and got run over by a car.

I was looking out through the grill gate at the backyard while eating breakfast. In between bites I observed how patiently Wowie lay there beside the gate. Sometimes through the cyclone wire he'd see people walking down the street and he'd bark at them. But they were just hollow perfunctory barks. He's expected to bark when he sees people, right? Sometimes, he'll run around, trampling on some heliconias in the process. I have no idea what he's running after. Maybe he's running after a frog or a mouse or a snake... who knows? Maybe he's just amusing himself. But most of the time, he's just there, standing watch, waiting. He'll really perk up when one of us opens the gate and goes out to where he is. Then he'll really be all over you - with his tail wagging vigorously he'll follow you around and nuzzle you until you almost trip over him and shoo him away.

That morning I suddenly found myself wondering what it would be like to live a life like that. An endless waiting for something - or someone - to come out and be with you - and the emptiness of nothing to do in between. Then I remembered something I'd read a long time ago. About one author's opinion of what purgatory might be like. He believed that purgatory is not so much a place but a void, a state of emptiness, of waiting until we are purified and deserving of being with God. I thought to myself, if purgatory is like that, then that's pretty much like what's going on out here. You'd be in a constant state of emptiness and an endless waiting for the gate to open, for God to finally let you in.

So you see what a remarkable experience it has been having pet dogs around... You begin with some very mundane learnings and may even end up with Glimpses of the Eternal!

Excuse me while I shoo away this puppy that's gnawing with such gusto at my slipper...


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