If you’ve been following anything I write for more than one post you already know I am a dyed-in-the-wool-from-birth bird lover. If the bird happens to have a hooked bill and squawks like a parrot, even better.
My folks are as ardent about dogs as I am about birds. In fact, our extra-long brown standard dachshund, J.P. Morgan, has earned the title of “honorary bird” in my book. Morgan and I share a birthday and a love of naps, Cheerios, and soft fuzzy blankets. Clearly we’re related.
Every year we travel to Cape Cod for a family vacation. During my vacation I read – a lot. Usually I read a huge stack of books about birds but this year I branched out. My first book was called “The Divinity of Dogs” by Jennifer Skiff. The book is divided into sections like love, comfort, intuition, healing, gratitude, loyalty, passing, compassion, and forgiveness. I can share that I was feeling more of each of these things with each passing chapter.
The subtitle of the book is “true stories of miracles inspired by man’s best friend.” The stories – compiled from dog lovers around the globe – include amazing tales of how dogs saved people from suicide, cancer, seizures, heartbreak, isolation, disabling illness, and more. Some storytellers are dog lovers from birth. Others came to love dogs through a chance life-saving encounter at just the right moment. Over and over the storytellers refer to their canine sidekicks as “soulmates” and “best friends,” “confidantes,” “mentors,” “teachers,” and “the love of their life.”
Since I feel that way about my bird, Pearl, I can wholeheartedly relate. It is hard not to love a being that begins screeching for you to come right back before you even leave the room.
One of my favorite stories from “The Divinity of Dogs” is by a storyteller named Nancy Kaiser. She wrote, “Animals live fully in the moment; they let go of their past and don’t drag it around with them. This is one of the greatest lessons they offer humans.” Of her dogs, Hana and Saba, she writes, “Because of them, I feel worty of being loved, I’m able to give love without the fear of being hurt, I have forgiven my ex, and most important, I now love myself.”
But then again, I have learned these same lessons from Pearl.
Another one of my favorite stories is from storyteller Vivian Axmacher, dog parent to Mr. Handsome, a long-haired Chihuahua found discarded from a puppy mill. He was full of infection and his mouth was so sore he couldn’t eat. A team of kind souls nursed him back to health, all the while vying for the honor of adopting him. Vivian eventually won out, and of her tiny mentor she writes, “I have learned a lot from Mr. Handsome. He has reminded me of the evil in some and the goodness in others. He has shown me that cruelty can destroy the body but not the soul. He has taught me that when life seems difficult and the pain is more than I think I can bear, if I just believe in life and what I deserve from it, if I just keep wagging my tail, everything will be all right.”
But perhaps the most moving story of all – for me personally at least – came from the author herself.
Ms. Skiff still serves on the board of The Dogs’ Refuge Home in Australia, a no-kill shelter that can take close to 200 dogs at a time. She shared a story of a time when she was President and three volunteers were trying to rip the charity apart from the inside out. At a staff meeting, she invited the angry staffers to try to see life from the troublemaking volunteers’ perspective – to view them as if they were one of the scared, angry, hurting dogs the shelter regularly took in and loved no matter what. She asked if perhaps those human volunteers, too, were “biting” and lashing out because they had been hurt in the past. By reframing the issue in this light, the entire staff felt moved with empathy towards the volunteers. While eventually the volunteers were asked to leave, everyone who remained had learned a valuable lesson in compassion.
Ms. Skiff writes, “There’s often a reason people and dogs bite. It’s about self-protection. If we respect what we may not know about the suffering of others and look at them compassionately, we open the door that can lead to understanding. Dogs, for a reason that can only be described as divine, have the ability to forgive, let go of the past, and live each day joyously. It’s something the rest of us strive for. The truth is, if you respect what you don’t know and live your life assuming that there are legitimate reasons why some people bite, you won’t take it personally. The end result is the ability to find joy in your own life.”
Today’s Takeaway: Not everyone resonates deeply with animals like Ms. Skiff and I do. And some only find synergy with one species or even one breed and that is okay. What matters is that, the moment this occurs, a bridge is built of the most solid material possible – love. If you are a fellow animal lover, how have your animal companions – wild or domestic – shaped and supported you? What lessons do you treasure most? What lessons are you still learning?