Those of you who have read this blog for awhile know that we lost our dog, Sadie, when she made an unfortunate decision to attack a truck — a decision that came out distinctly in the truck’s favor. It was a sad moment. The death of an animal always is. But, as with all deaths, the pain slowly subsides as life goes forward.
Recently, we got another dog — another “pound hound” — who looks much like a less portly version of her predecessor, though she has a very different personality. Sadie was in love with people and food; Lucie, our new dog, is much more thoughtful and reserved, deals with strangers cautiously but affably, and is more interested in the chase than the food bowl. I’ve taken to running her along side the car on country roads while she runs for miles with a wide dog grin on her face. Give her a chance to run and she becomes the embodiment of joy.
Since she and I are home alone together all day, we have become fast friends. She sleeps beside me while I write, wheezing and blubbering in her dog dreams. She follows me wherever I go, looks to me for approval, comes to me when she wants to go out, goes scuttling off to her dog bed when I chastise her for some real or perceived transgression. She is, as dogs often are, my physical and emotional shadow.
I am fond of saying that when people talk to God, they are really talking to a reflection of their own conscience. When we talk to our dogs, we are very often talking to a projection of our own emotional needs. Lucie fits the bill admirably, and she offers me a mirror of what is best and least guarded in me. I’ll sing to her, create ridiculous names for her, make a fool of myself around her in a way I would never do around people. And, if earnest attention constitutes approval, she gives every indication of holding me in high regard no matter how absurd or irrational my actions may be. In her presence I feel no embarrassment, and in her eyes I can do no wrong.
In exchange, she asks only that I treat her with fairness and kindness. She does not like harsh words or angry attitudes. I sense some physical abuse in her background: quick movements or raised hands frighten her and make her cower.
As I write this, she is out running the neighborhood. Given that we live in the country, this is not as bad as if we were city dwellers. And it is only 6 in the morning. But still, there are neighbors to upset, cars to dodge, and trouble to find. She may return covered in offal or mud. Or we may get a call saying she has consumed a chicken or knocked over a garbage can or otherwise violated the legitimate sense of order that others in the neighborhood have established.
I know there is a selfishness in this dog raising approach of mine. But it is a selfishness in regard to the accepted social order, not in relation to the dog herself. As with my own children, I want her to explore, make her own mistakes, find an honest relationship to the people and places around her, and live a life that is fulfilled and fulfilling. I do not want her to live her life on a chain.
This is the risk we take — with our animals and our children. Do we train them on a short leash, and hope they do not get stunted? Or do we let them move freely and hope they find an internal discipline? In either case, the goal is the same: a happy, healthy, well-adjusted being with a sense of responsibility to the world around it.
By and large, Lucie is doing well. I only have to hope that she returns before sun up, and that she has neither been hit by a car nor excavated a neighbor’s garbage can.
Perhaps I should have kept her in. She would be safer and I would be less nervous and concerned. She could have been warm and comfortable, lying by the side of my bed, blubbering in her sleep. But she would have been dreaming of running free.