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The heart of a good dog

By: Jefferson Weaver

My thoughts were like a three-legged fox turned loose in a field full of chickens. Usually, I can juggle three or four tasks at once with at least some hope for accomplishment, but this time there was far too much going on to concentrate. A family I didn’t know was mourning a man I did, and a close friend was mourning for an entirely different reason, but in a way I understood far too well. There were far more bills left after payday than there were dead presidents to serve them. Another family close to my heart was going through a rough patch. The nagging, ongoing problem with my back was still nowhere near being fixed, since I am a pest of a patient and do not readily accept everything spoken by any medical professional as gospel – and unlike the gospel, it’s nearly impossible to get a straight answer from even the best bone-setters.

Although the adjustment to working from home wasn’t as dramatic for me as it has been for so many other folks, one can’t as easily put domestic things on hold when they are separated by feet instead of miles. Everywhere I turned, there was a project that screamed for attention. And I was staring at a malevolently blank screen, with a daily deadline looming, and being stared at in turn by the same screen. Then Toni snuffled at my feet, and her tail thumped hesitantly against the floor.I call Toni my “service dog,” and the term is meant as an homage, not a joke. Toni is a half-Plott mixed with something else, garnished with an afterthought of mutt. In other words, she’s just a plain old dog, which in my estimation is truly the best kind. Toni is my Rubenesque canine shadow; when I am home, she is never out of sight. She has her own rug in my office at home, as well as a place on the bed which is hers and hers alone. The other dogs may try to usurp her position, but Toni is a mistress of passive aggression, and when that fails, she has a bark reminiscent of a grandma who’s had just about enough.

If I fall, Toni is quick to be there, staring me in the face, tail wagging slowly, waiting to help me up. On our walks up and down the lane and through the pasture, she runs the flank and point positions, seeking interesting things to smell and possibly things that might be dangerous. She isn’t afraid to give me a suspicious look sometimes at my choice of route, but she’s always game, even if my ambition overwhelms my better judgment.She doesn’t hunt; indeed, gunfire makes her nervous, although she isn’t terrified like some of our other animals. She doesn’t want to fight if she can help it. She gets the sillies from time to time, bouncing and playing in a way that belies her nine-and-a- half years. I feel sorry for folks who have never had a dog who looked at them with utter, blind trust and love. I feel anger when I see a dog that has never had reason to feel that way about a human, or worse, has learned to fear humans.Since the first wolf approached a camp and was befriended by a long-dusty predecessor of modern man, dogs and humans have needed each other to be complete, at least in my estimation. Toni’s coloring is reminiscent of Dudley, the first dog I truly remember as being my own. He came along at the perfect time, thus proving again that God has a plan for
everything.

I had friends, but not as many as I might have, had my parents not been concerned about the state of public schools at the time. Dudley and I went through obedience classes when I was 10 (he learned and retained far more than I did, if truth be told). He followed me everywhere, too, first on foot, then running beside my bicycle, then in the passenger seat of my car or truck.. For a long time, he followed me to the bus stop every morning, then ambled his way home after taking a nap in the barber shop. The town fathers got grumbly over that, so he ended up having to wait for me at home, which likely cut down both on snacks and his contributions to the gene pool in our town.Once or twice we fought side by side – me against another boy, him against the boy’s dog, over things that in retrospect really weren’t worth dusting our clothes or reputations. He was there when my adolescent heart was broken, when things were too confusing, when bullies managed to get through my thick skin, and when the world overflowed with joyous adventures that cried out for a boy and a dog. We learned to hunt together, broke through the ice in a frozen pond and later, desperately swam out of a flooding river. When I left for college, he would mourn until I returned, even though he had his buddy and protégé, Dixie. When I came home on weekends, he and Dixie expected to go for a ride somewhere, and it was rare that we did not. I’ve been blessed with other dogs of the ages as well – Biscuit and Duke immediately come to mind, along with Dixie and the famous Tigger. There have been family dogs along with dogs that were Miss Rhonda’s shadows, but loved me because I love her.

Like the old saying goes, I pray that some day I’ll be the person my dog thinks I am, but that’s one of those goals I doubt I can ever attain. Looking at Toni watch me from her rug, I thought about how we would all be a lot better off if we knew how to love like dogs.Good dogs want and need nothing more than for their humans to be happy. Dogs know the simple pleasures of a sunspot on a cool day, or a drink of water when the day is hot.Dogs aren’t afraid to trust their instincts, yet if they have complete confidence in their humans, they will try something that seems unnatural or dangerous. At the same time, dogs aren’t afraid to try something new, or let their true feelings show, whether with a wagging tail or a growl and a bark. Dogs have loyalty and forgiveness that no human could ever deserve. They can embrace the unmitigated, simplest of joys in life, with no embarrassment or concern about what someone else might think. Dogs do not scheme like humans, nor do they know impatience, malice or hatred like humans can demonstrate at the drop of a hat. Once you’ve earned a dog’s trust, you have to try to break it. As I sat there staring at that malevolent screen, and Toni cocked her head that certain way that says she wants to go wandering, a song came over the player, sung by of my favorite artists, but a song I’d never before heard. While the song has nothing do with a dog, I have to think the lyricist had a dog at his feet as he penned the words:“No matter how they judge us, I’ll be everyone you need. No matter if the sun don’t shine and the skies aren’t blue, No matter what the ending, my life began with you….

I know this love’s forever, I know no matter what.” I can’t help but think we’d have a much better world, if we all could look at each other with the heart of a good dog.

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