Michael Baugh CPDT-KA, CDBC
I hear them all the time, stories about that one dog that changed a person’s life. Sometimes the dog is right there. More often than not the dog is already gone, dead, maybe a year, maybe decades ago. But one thing is always the same. The dog in the story is or was the dog. And the person I’m listening to is moved to speak of magic and mystery.
Folks who know dogs well call them “Lifetime Dogs.” There won’t be another one like her, they’ll say. And then the stories come. She was the dog who saw me though my divorce, or the death of my mother, or the time I was laid off. When everyone else turned their back on me, she was the dog who stood by my side. When she looked at me I just knew she understood. She was the best dog I ever had and I still miss her.
I understand. I have a Lifetime Dog. She inspired my first dog training business. She’s traveled the country with me and moved city to city. She’s seen me through loss and disappointment. She’s made me smile and laugh, just about daily. She’s one of my best friends. And though I prattle at her all the time she has never spoken a word to me. Her loyalty is silent and steady. Her name is Juno and I could tell you stories about our life together for days. And I find I want to tell those stories even more these days because Juno is near the end of her life.
So, what is it about her and all these other dogs? How do they pull us through life’s struggles? How do they charm and change our lives so? Or are we asking the right questions?
My belief in the true nature of dogs leads me back to observation. I’ve seen dogs do amazing things: run weave poles at top speed, perform in obedience competition with precision, take down criminals with stealth and strength, and find survivors in rubble when all hope was lost. But the new work of dogs as author Jon Katz calls it, is much harder to see. I’ve never seen a dog talk anyone through divorce or death. I’ve never really seen a dog start a business or find someone a job. In truth, I’ve never seen a dog do anything other than be a dog, just be herself.
The sad truth is I see humans being less than their greatest selves all the time. We struggle and persevere and rarely give ourselves the credit. When we suffer and mourn we are the ones who emerge on the other side standing strong and alive and better than before. We raise families and build lives. And on our best days we embrace the glory of our own lives with laughter and joy. That’s us. That’s you. And yes, if we are lucky we do it with a dog by our side.
And what about these dogs? What about Juno in the waning days of our life together? Is she any less special for having done nothing at all? Is she no longer a “Lifetime Dog” for having been just an ordinary dog? Or maybe ordinary is enough. Maybe her magic is just simply in her being and not at all in her doing. And perhaps the best counselor or friend really is the one who stays by your side without a word while you struggle and heal. And maybe she’s the one who steps aside while you grow and create and emerge anew. She’s always there to play and watch you laugh. And that’s enough. She’s the clear simple reflection of your greatest self. Can’t you see how wonderful you are in her eyes?