Throughout most of my life, there have been dogs in the story. In fact, I plan to title my autobiography, My Life in Dog Years. Most of my childhood we had a dog. Unfortunately, dogs only live for a fraction of our lifetimes. I learned that pretty early. I remember thinking that a parrot or a tortoise made a better pet because they lived for so long. Probably a tortoise would be the best pet, I thought as a child. After all, dogs required a lot of care and parrots were not a whole bunch better, but a tortoise could live for more than a century and did not need much attention. There would be no terrible parting caused by death. Such is the naivete of a child’s worldview.
When I entered adulthood, I did not have any pangs for a dog...or at least none that I acknowledged. I was footloose and fancy-free. I felt that I was far too selfish and self-absorbed to have any pets, especially the high maintenance type that a dog would represent. However, after a few years, I found myself cohabitating with my future wife. She wanted a dog and given my new circumstances, it seemed like a logical next step. I instructed her to go to the pound and pick out a dog, since going to a pet store was out of the question due to my upbringing.
Unfortunately, the little dog she brought home was a throw away from a puppy mill. It had a congenital liver shunt. There was much crying when this was eventually diagnosed. I had thought myself far too selfish to have a dog and certainly far too attached to my money to spend thousands on surgery for a dog that likely would not live too long anyway. However, when I was faced with the choice, I gladly shelled out thousands for the dog’s surgery. Sadly, the issue recurred and the little dog, Maxx, only lived for four years before passing.
I learned things about myself that I did not expect. Maxx taught me that maybe having children was something I could actually pull off. Maybe even I wanted to do so after all. He really changed the course of my life and without him, I wonder if my sons would have been born. His life may have been short, but his impact on mine was large. He even brought in his replacement before he was gone.
While at the vet Maxx met Missi a stray terrier that had been abandoned there after being hit by a car. We adopted her. Shortly after that, we bought a house and I adopted another dog since it was surrounded by a quarter acre lot. He was a large junkyard dog, likely shepherd and retriever mix. Ben was a fine watchdog, especially when paired with the little terrier, Missi, who was quite alert. After Maxx passed there were still two dogs in my life.
As it goes, dogs age faster than us and though both Ben and Missi lived long enough to meet my sons, it was only for a moment in the long arc of human time. We did not immediately get any more pets when they passed, because children do keep one busy. However, there is a certain feeling of security that a dog brings to your life. A dog sleeping in your bedroom is better than any gun under your pillow. A dog will give its life to protect you and not require YOU to be alert for that defense to occur. Though I owned several guns, I kept them locked up for obvious reasons. Besides no gun can be alert to intruders and protect your family while you are snoring. I began to realize that if I wanted to sleep soundly another dog was needed.
The next dog was a special dog, a giant dog with a regal bearing. She was a queen of a dog that other dogs visibly bowed down to with nary a growl, occasionally, just occasionally, she might give them a glance of recognition and I saw satisfaction in their eyes at her noticing. It was a bit surreal. She was a pit bull and Great Dane mix that had been found in a dumpster just a few weeks old. She had grown to be such a giant that the woman could no longer keep her in an apartment. With a large yard, we had plenty of room for a giant dog, even if she did have a dumb name, like Laker.
Laker made sure no one ever thought about breaking into our house. She needed only to look out the window and my house got crossed off of the list. She was a great watchdog and nothing bad happened on her watch. Near the end of her life, I began to spend a lot of time with her. I had many conversations with her and though she never SPOKE to me, there were times my mind brought a perceived response to me. Before she died, she helped me understand things to get me on a healing path.
She had kept me from completely losing my s**t by hanging around in her failing body for a couple more years. Big dogs don’t usually live long, but she lived to be almost fifteen years old. I had become so isolated from my family. Teenage and young adult sons can be especially critical and harsh. Spouses can be capricious and inconstant. One can spend one’s prime working years building something for others and discover the foundation was not solid. It is a terrible realization that such an earnest effort did not yield the future expected after so much sacrifice.
One looks in the mirror and accepts all the criticism as true. One knows that the character flaws are undeniable. The self-loathing that such a result can bring is real. The loneliness is real yet human interaction painful, and you cry a river of tears in solitude. Laker was there as my companion. She taught me about love that did not require physical intimacy. She taught me that I was not totally without merit.
I had an epiphany after she died. Dogs are bodhisattvas. Laker had clearly been a spiritual guide for me. She helped me plumb the depths of my sorrow and accept that a broken heart need not be fatal. Hearts are broken, but they are resilient. And it broke my heart when it was time to release her from her service. And there was that final lesson that love and tears and crying could actually be a source of strength. My love for her giving me the will to let her go right next to her fireplace with her “pack” all around her.
Afterward, the family felt another dog was something they wanted though I mourned. Nonetheless, Laker’s love had taught me so much about myself and the universe. I knew that I needed to get another dog, so as has always been the case I adopted a dog that was in need of a home, instead of buying a purebred animal from a pet store or breeder. I am a mongrel and I am drawn to other mutts, I guess. Maggie, the slightly arthritic pit beagle, has been a blessing and a capable watchdog.
So what is a bodhisattva? A bodhisattva is a Buddhist concept. A bodhisattva is an individual that has achieved enlightenment but stays in Samsara to help others through this painful reality. The idea is that though a being may achieve enlightenment, they do not immediately transition to a higher plane. They stay in this realm and try to help their fellow beings achieve enlightenment as well. They postpone their enlightened salvation to help others.
There is definitely a deeper wave. I try to stay alert to it. I feel it quite strongly and have written about it on this platform. In the same way that I see plants and trees as ways to fulfill my purpose, I have begun to feel that animals are here to guide us. Perhaps for others, it is cats, cows, or whatever, but for me, it seems that dogs are my familiar and their message to me has been to be happy, to rejoice in each other’s company and have a little fun while doing the work of life.
Dogs are spiritual guides without a doubt and here are seven indisputable reasons why.
1 They love unconditionally giving us what we need.
2 They heal us.
3 They forgive unconditionally.
4 They are in tune with our emotions.
5 They receive our love gratefully showing us how much we need to give.
6 They teach us about life.
7 They teach us about death.
If a loving God was to send down an ambassador would not the form of the dog be useful? A dog that would be brought into the home where it could teach us so much about love and loyalty. Perhaps it is why dog is god spelled backward. Somehow we suspect this connection...at least we English-speakers. If we all became as good a person as our dogs make us believe that they think we are, the world would be a much better place. None can deny this truth.