Everything I need to know about life I’ve already learned from my dog.
When I was probably about four or five years old, I recall that the thing I wanted more than anything else was a dog for our family. My mom always told me stories about her cocker spaniels she had growing up and I thought it would be good for our family. Soon enough we were bringing home a little fur ball spaniel from the pet store, I still remember the car ride home. I held him in my lap and he licked my hand and face while I thought of a name for him. We settled on Alex, after my father.
Alex and I grew up together every day for years. Every day I came home to his warm hair and dopey look on his face no matter what kind of mood I was in he could cheer me up. He did everything with me, watched TV, played outside, celebrated Christmas, and moved from house to house. He was always there. I moved around a lot as a kid and I lost a lot of good friends along the way. Throughout it all, I always had one best friend. Alex was always there for me not matter what, constantly on guard, always loyal and loving.
Dogs are really spectacular beings. I am sure many of you have an animal that you love, and you already know this, but I feel I should point it out. Your best friends may become your worst enemies, your children may end up ungrateful, your reputation could be destroyed in an instant, and your dearest friends may prove unfaithful, but the one person that will never leave you and never prove ungrateful or selfish, is your dog. If poverty strikes you and you are thrown out of your home into homelessness and sickness, then a dog will sleep on the cold, hard, and unforgiving ground if it means being by his master’s side.
Dogs are unmatched in their ability to grant love beyond condition, even to complete strangers who may kick them and look down upon them. In their unmatchable power of loyalty, a dog will sit upon its owner’s grave and protect him even in death. Find me a man who can do that.
Two years ago, I came home from school one day and found my old buddy and pal missing. My mom had taken him to the vet because he hadn’t been doing very well the past few days and I figured it was probably something minor. When she came home that evening she told me that Alex had a tumor, the size of a tennis ball, in his body.
"Is there anything we can do? We have to be able to do something."
"No, sweetie, I’m sorry. There’s not. "
The feeling of dread and hatred and despair hit me in the chest like a battering ram breaking down the doors of sanctum. She had already set a date to have him euthanized while she was at the vet that day. She told me that the best thing we could do would be to make his last days on the Earth as peaceful and happy as we could. I felt empty, like life had cheated me, stolen something from me, and robbed me of my best friend. I sat in my room for a long time, angry. I remember though, I never cried and after a while I went back into the family room and sat with Alex on the floor.
I picked him up and held him close to me and whispered in his ear that it would all be okay. I hated lying to my dog and I think he knew it because at that moment he looked up at me with a look of acceptance, a smile behind pained eyes. I asked him if he wanted to sit on the couch and watch TV with me like we always used to. He licked my hand and I stood up with him in my arms. I remember that as I stood that my heart felt twice as heavy as he did. For the next week every day I came home and spent time with him, trying to be the strong one. I regretted every moment that I hadn’t spent with him. I regretted every time I was “too busy” doing homework or with my friends to even reach down pat my best bud.
In his finals days, when I knew he was in pain and discomfort, he never showed it. He wanted nothing more than to spend the final hours of his life with his family who he loved and who loved him. He never struck out or bit anyone even in the worst, and final, pain of his life. I couldn’t go with him to the vet on his last day on Earth. I said good-bye as best I could, but I never said my final good-bye. I if had been able to, and had been able to bring myself to it, I think I would have just said, “I love you, thank you so much.”
The night he was put down, I sat in my bed and for the first time in years I cried. I cried because I was sad and angry, but mostly because I hated myself for every moment I was angry with him or yelled at him for no reason, every wasted instance where I neglected him. I was selfish. He was perfect.
Someone told me once that the reason that people out live dogs is that people are born so that they can learn how to live a good life - like loving everybody all the time and being nice…well, dogs already know how to do that so they don’t need to stay as long.
Looking back years later, I realize how much there is to learn from this story. We should live our lives like Alex lived his.
Always run to greet someone when they come home with a smile and something good to say. Jumping may be a bit excessive, however.
Never forget how good it is to have fresh air and an open field.
Take naps as often as possible.
Sometimes you can bark, but never bite.
Be loyal to those who you love, never betray a friend or family for anything.
Don’t pretend to be something that you’re not for anyone. You’re amazing just the way you are.
Enjoy the simple things: walks, swims, meals with family.
Enjoy every second of every single day as if it were your last. Each day is a blessing and so are the people you spend it with and the joys you share. Each new life and experience is a blessing and each person is an individual miracle. Out of millions of possibilities there is only one you on the planet.
Think about something with me. Think of all of your loved ones and people you hold dearest to you. Now, imagine it is your last day on this Earth with them, what would you tell them? Would you tell them how much you love them and care about them? How they have been the greatest people in your life and how they’ve touched you and made you who you are? Now ask yourself: What are you waiting for?
Also, everyone, please remember to visit your local shelter and adopt a dog if you are thinking about adding a member to your family. There are lots of good dogs out there waiting for amazing homes.