Monday, September 29, 2014

4 Lessons I've Learned From My Dog

Fiona is 9 years old. She's my adopted puppy child. She was two when Liz and I started dating and five when we got married. I missed those early formative years (which is why she's so misbehaved now), but I've been around long enough to fall madly in love with the furball. And she loves me too. To the point of obsession. Follows me everywhere. Constantly wants to be on top of me. Goes crazy whenever I leave. She's infatuated (but who can blame her?).

Recently, I've been paying attention to Fiona. And in doing so, I've realized she has a lot to teach me about life. Here are 4 lessons I've learned from my dog:

1) Fiona's taught me about love. People say this all of the time, and it's true. Nothing on this planet will love you like your dog. There's something holy about it. Leave her for a two-week vacation, she goes crazy when I get home. Yell at her for something silly, she immediately wants to curl up with me and seek cuddly forgiveness. If someone tried to hurt me, I have no doubt Fiona would defend me to the death.

I don't love like that. My love is conditional. My love comes with so many strings attached that you need a marionette to control it. No one loves me like that. Liz loves me, but it's conditional on me keeping my pants zipped and treating her with respect. My mom's love is in a whole other category (no human being loves you quite like your mother), but even that love is conditional. But not Fiona. I could be the most awful human being on the planet, and she'd stay by my side. It's a humbling love that, strangely enough, makes me want to be a better person by challenging me to love like that.

2) Fiona's taught me about freedom. When I take her on walks, she's awful. She does this thing where she leans her entire body weight in the opposite direction of where I want her to go. Most of the time, I eventually have to pick her up and carry her. Her stubbornness drives me nuts. But the strangest thing happens when I let her off the leash. She normally walks right along side me, barely wavering from the sidewalk. When she's restrained, she's desperate to disobey, wander, and misbehave. But when she's given freedom, she seeks out the alpha male to lead her. Perhaps freedom leads to obedience and constraint leads to rebellion?

3) Fiona's taught me about sacrifice. I'm often a selfish person. (We all are to varying degrees, of course, but a lifetime avoiding responsibility likely leads to more selfishness.) Sure, I'm often generous, but mostly, I just want life to work out the way I want it to work out. I want to do what I want when I want. In some small way (I'm sure children take this lesson to the 10th degree), Fiona is teaching me that caring for others feels better than looking out for myself. I love all of my family and friends, but I would walk through fire to keep Fiona and my wife safe. I can't imagine someone hurting either one of them. Bad news for the person who tries.

4) Fiona's taught me about my dad. Last week, I had this super emotional day where I cried over my childhood dog that died 16 years ago. My dad loved that dog. The family joke was that he loved Sadie more than his children, and while I'm sure that wasn't true (and by "sure," I mean "probably not"), there was an undeniable connection between the two. She loved him too. Followed him around; curled up next to him every night; licked him constantly. As I mentioned earlier, Fiona is that way with me. Her obsession always seemed so odd until I thought back to Sadie and my dad. There's a reason the phrase is Man's Best Friend. This may sound crazy (because I know women have special connections with animals too), but I think dogs look at men as their alpha male leader, and men look at dogs as the one living thing on this planet that loves us in spite of our rough edges. Men can be insensitive and closed off and feel underappreciated, but dogs don't care. They love us anyway. Maybe I'm nuts, but I began looking at my dad differently after making this connection. Maybe I saw him through Sadie's eyes. Those big, brown, loving, puppy dog eyes.

Okay, I gotta go. There's something in my eyes. They're tears. Tears are in my eyes.

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