Nine years ago, when our family got our first dog, I never could have imagined the number of lessons he (and eventually they) would teach us about love, connection and responsibility.
As a child, I didn’t have an opportunity to understand the bond that could exist between humans and canines. My parents didn’t think of dogs as pets, much less as members of the family. Neighborhood dogs came and went through my childhood with no collars, no fences and no place to truly call home.
When our kids were five and two, my husband and I opted to treat them to a canine friend. My husband was in the military and had just returned from artillery training, and we wanted a connecting and bonding experience for all four of us. We chose a Boxer, Arty (short for Artillery Howitzer Knight), who allowed our daughter to climb on him and dress him in boas and tutus. Much more than a baby-sitter, he quickly became our third child.
My husband deployed to Afghanistan, and before long, we got another Boxer. Not quite as smart but certainly as loveable as Arty, Clover was just as rambunctious as he had been at the same age. Because we traveled a lot, the dogs spent a great deal of time outside, with trusted neighbors stopping in to feed and play with them.
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As the kids and the dogs got older, I managed to ease out of one job and into another that afforded me more time with both dogs and family. What I found was certainly amazing: The more time and love I gave to the dogs, the more was replenished, and at astounding rates. When I began truly having a relationship with them, my own patience and understanding skyrocketed.
One Christmas, we managed to save a mixed-breed pup from going to the pound (while my husband was on another deployment to Iraq), and I must say, she was a godsend! Freyja didn’t chew things up, and the Boxers took her in as their own. Her disposition was completely different from the others (barking was the only negative).
As if three dogs weren’t enough, we succumbed once more—again, we started down the puppy path, with vague memories of the havoc and chaos to which Arty and Clover had introduced us. Oda (Operation Detachment Alpha—my husband’s job in the military) began sleeping with me in the absence of my deployed (again) husband, and before much time had passed, he weighed 60 pounds and was no longer the little pup I’d invited onto the bed on those lonesome nights.
I am now working from home, which affords me a lot more time with my canine kids. Oda still sleeps with us, alongside Freyja and Clover. Arty sleeps on the floor next to the bed.
What I have learned from the dogs far exceeds what they have learned from me. I’ve learned to welcome all interactions with my children, who are now 15 and 11. I’ve learned I should take naps when I am sleepy, run when I have energy, be on guard when strangers approach the house and snuggle up with those I love.
I have also learned that when I extend love, I have more capacity to give it. I have learned to be aware of others’ feelings because they won’t always tell me what they’re thinking, and to try to understand what others desire or require for their own comfort and happiness. I have also learned that when I let the boundaries of who I think I am dissolve into the dogs, I am happier and more fulfilled because I recognize that we are truly connected. This has taught me to do the same for the people in my life. When I allow my own edges to blur into theirs, we are one. And when we are one, I feel nothing but kindness, compassion and love for others (who are really just extensions of me).
Thank you, Arty, Clover, Freyja and Oda, for teaching me how to love, really love, the people in my life.