Dogs: A Lesson Worth Learning

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Bryden Smith

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Originally published on Sep. 7th, 2017.

A few weeks ago, I received a call from a friend/coworker who took the month of August off to drive cross-country with her brother and dog. Just the day before I had sent a text wishing her a happy birthday; then, between sobs, she broke the news to me that her dog, Benny, only a year old, had passed away. He had eaten a poisonous mushroom while on a hike and within 48 hours he was gone.

How do you even prepare for that?

It’s hard to breathe at first when you’re faced with the inevitable loss of your dog.  Sure, we know that humans almost always outlive their pets, and we know that the injuries or sicknesses that afflict them are often too expensive to fix. Many times, we are faced with euthanasia, a choice that no dog owner likes to make.

We conveniently, almost willfully, forget these truths for the sake of self-preservation. But make no mistake, someday your friend will leave you.

I struggled with what to say to her. I knew that there wasn’t much of anything that could make her feel better.

I remember the day she bought Benny, and I remember the first time I held him. I remember the two of us running around the park until we collapsed, the tall green grass obscuring everything but his floppy black ears and long snout.

Then I thought back to last December when I had to say goodbye to Murphy, my own best friend. I had lost dogs before, but none that had hit me so hard. His last days with an enlarged heart before I finally put him down are more vivid in my mind than almost any others in my life. When I close my eyes I can feel his heavy head relax in my hands as the last shot kicked in.

But the good memories vastly outweigh the painful ones. There was the time he licked the tears off my face after my first girlfriend dumped me. There were the times he jumped on the trampoline with me when we were both just puppies. From all of the years with him, from all the good and all the bad, Murphy taught me one essential lesson: live in the moment.

Dogs are the personification of this idea, of this mentality which we as a society desire so deeply yet rarely attain. Dogs aren’t concerned with what happened yesterday, or what will happen tomorrow. They run like they never will again and eat like it’s their last meal. They love deeply without apprehension and they trust completely without fear. And when they die, they do so without regret, because their entire lives have been spent in the present.

That’s what eventually helped me get past Murphy’s death. While I was a sniveling mess, his eyes glimmered with a graceful acceptance; laying in my lap, he was at peace.

In many of the guided meditations I’ve done, objects in nature have been used to gain clarity and strength. They say to consider the stability of a mountain or the growth of a flower. In this respect, I believe our four-legged companions deserve similar contemplation. They teach us to be present: loving more and worrying less. They teach us to love meeting new people and to act braver than we actually are. They never stop chasing rabbits (even if they never catch them) and they’re never afraid to run out the front door.

Even death is more tolerable if we learn from dogs and appreciate life.

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