Dogs and Dreams

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.

10 comments

  1. Dena says:

    I especially enjoy your stories. I can tell that you are a very caring person. If I was a dog I would wish to be “YOUR” dog. Your writings are written with a sincerity & freshness that I haven’t seen in a long time.

  2. MARCIA says:

    I find your articles or thoughts breathtaking! I too love dogs, or I should say any animal, but especially dogs. They bring me so much joy, and expect so little in return. I find myself at times talking to them like I would a baby or small child!! They bring to me whatever I need emotionally at the moment in time I need it the most, and it seems it’s always the right time! Unfortunately, this seems to be a time when I’m unsettled and they seem to know that also. Again, I love to read what you have to say, it seems to be a lot of what I feel also.
    Sincerely,
    Marcia Cantrell

  3. John Loewenstein says:

    Somewhere deep in the cobwebs of memory, I recall a comment from the French philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau that runs something like : ” Who knows but that I am more my cat’s ‘human” than she is ‘my’ cat.”
    All forms of Being are my equal “relations.”

    Another remembered comment , from the Master photographer, Wynne Bullock : ” When I feel a rock as much a miracle as a man, then I feel in touch with the universe.”

    John Loewenstein, photographer, bodywork therapist, Clarkdale, Az.

  4. Anita says:

    Hi, Kent,glad to see you understand animals so well. I hope your dog gets along okay and I understand your feelings about her freedom. I just wander about the “leash law” in your state. In PA, a dog has to have a leash in case it bites someone. I have cats and two go in and out. A lot of people believe animals have to be shut inside to look out at the world but I am not one of them. My old kitty has to stay in because I don’t want to lose her. I don’t want to lose the others but they love to go in and out. We can’t cage them all forever. I hope you have Sadie for a long time and definitely if I was a dog I would want to lead her life.

  5. Sharyn McCormick says:

    What happened to being a responsible pet owner? Are there only 2 options–being chained or running free? I live in a rather sparsely populated area and I wouldn’t dream of letting my dog out to “run free” any more than I would my children. I put a leash on her and take her out and take her for walks. Our pets depend on us for their food, shelter, care and safety. They do not know that cars can injure and/or kill them. While you are warm and safe in your home, your pet could be lying by the side of the road seriously injured. How would you know that and is that what you want for her? One would think that since Sadie was killed by a truck that you wouldn’t want the same thing to happen to Lucie. But there is always another “pound hound” to be had. I almost cannot believe you are the same person who writes such beautiful books and has such a gift with words.

  6. cyntcha says:

    I have to agree with Sharyn on this one. “Coincidentally,” just before reading your story, we drove home from a theater and I noticed a beautiful black cat lying dead on the side of the road, and wondered about her owners. We don’t keep our pets safe because we’re neurotic about their well-being, but because we are charged with responsibility once they are ours. I hope Lucie is around a long time to experience the deep love and affection you obviously have for her. I also hope you reconsider the negative energy she’s engendering from innocent people who also may love dogs, and who may feel a horrible sense of guilt if they should be the one to accidentally take her life.
    Blessings.

  7. Beverly says:

    Hello Kent, I absolutely agree with you on your approach to having a dog in your life. We don’t own them and the “responsibility” that some assume for animals or anything else in this life is truly assumed and not a law of nature. I admire your mindfullness and ability to live your life by your truth. Respect for other peoples’ ways and decisions comes with respect for ourselves and everyone’s inate freedom and individuality. I am so thankful that you have shared your thoughts here and even before reading the previous judgements I wanted to write to say thanks for speaking my own mind so eloquently!!!

  8. Sharyn McCormick says:

    I really have to take issue with the previous comment. The fact that I have an opinion about dogs running free does not mean that I do not have respect for other people and their ways. My question to the above writer is how can you have self-respect if you don’t take responsiblity for your life and the things in it? Saying that we choose to “assume” responsiblity is a cop out for not taking responsibility. I just find it incredibly sad that a family pet died unnecessarily because no one took the time to watch it and see to its safety. Our pets give their lives to us, is it too much to ask of us to take some time out of our busy lives to care for them properly? If I did not assume responsibility for my dog and just opened the door and let her “run free” and she was hit by a car would I take solace in the fact that she was running free? I could get another dog and the same thing could happen to her, and so on and so on. A person could go through a lot of dogs if each dog they had was killed by a car or injured in some other way, say by another animal, while it was “running free.” They could also be laying someplace injured and suffering and you would not know that if your dog is free to roam. There are many dogs dead along the road because their owners didn’t take the time to care for them and just let them run. How are they supposed to know that they should not run in front of a car? Oh well, too bad, we will just get another one! When we take on a pet we take on a responsibility to care for them just like we do when we have children, are in a relationship, own a home, buy a car etc. We don’t really own any of these things either for that matter. Taking responsiblity is part of growing up. You have a responsiblity to be at work on time, to do your job, to provide for yourself or your family, etc. If you don’t want the responsibility that goes with owning a pet, then don’t have one.

  9. Karen says:

    I’ve been keeping up with the postings regarding pets and the decision to give them the freedom to explore. The point of the matter isnt the resulting effect of the decision, it was the decision to give them the freedom in the first place. I have 3 dogs and 2 cats, all with very distinct personalities. The cats are allowed to wander as they will and one of the dogs gets his playtime outside without a leash. The other two dogs are always kept leashed because they’ve had issues with moving vehicles and wandering off in the past. All of our animals were “dumpster bums” when we found them. Someone had uncaringly tossed them off at the local garbage dumps to fend for themselves. They were all scared, hungry, and cold when we opened our hearts (and car doors) to them. They have all turned in to well behaved, well adjusted companions for my family. They all had rough starts but lead a decent life now.
    The point is they were given the chance to figure out how they wanted to be without prejudice. Instead of them moving in and having to immediately conform to a lifestyle totally new to them we all took our time, feeling things out, getting a taste of all things new and undiscovered. It is a constant learning experience with pets, as with children. It isnt that one doesnt care – its that they care enough to take the chance to allow each his own…

  10. Faith Williamson says:

    Okay, I feel the need to voice my opinion here as well. Would one let a toddler run free outside unattended because it doesn’t want to stay in it’s playpen? A dog or a cat doesn’t know enough to look both ways before crossing a street, nor does a young child. We do not “own”
    our pets but they should “own” us as we are their guardian and protector. It seems to me that humans who allow their pets outside really don’t have a very good connection with them and have responsibilty issues. The Humane Society and area shelters are forced to put down millions of animals yearly due to humans irresponsibilty. I find this kind of mentality in today’s society disturbing.
    Kent Nerburn is obviously an intelligent human being and a brilliant writer but I’m very surprised at his lack of respect and loyalty to his dog and companion.

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