Many people find it very easy to love a dog, and this is not new. Bryan Sykes tells us in his book The Seven Daughters of Eve, “By eight thousand years ago, dogs had become the indispensable companions of the hunters who ranged over Europe after the last Ice Age. Some became so precious that they were given a ceremonial burial with their owners.” Dogs are still precious to us for so many reasons.
Dogs can help remind us how nice it is to live in tune with the natural world. Humans are meant to be active but sometimes are sedentary instead. It is harder to stay inside if our faithful companion asks us (in a very persistent way) to go outside. Dogs remind us to rise with the sun and stretch, to start the day with a drink of water, to go outside for a walk and move as fast as we can just for the fun of it, and to settle in for the evening when the sun goes down.
Humans get stuck in thoughts of the past or the future. Dogs live in the moment, noticing, appreciating, and enjoying every detail of every day. Dogs can’t cheat or lie, and we can’t lie to them because they can sense our true feelings through their sensitive noses and attunement to our body language. They can alert us to danger and also be trained to sense medical emergencies.
We take our dogs to school so that we can learn to embody the calm and assertive energy that helps them learn what we are asking them to do. We practice setting clear and consistent boundaries and staying focused on the positive, speaking of what we want more of. This is the same strategy that helps humans to live in cooperation with our families and coworkers.
Though we raise our children to leave us and become independent, we raise our dogs to stay with us and be our companions. When we pet our beloved dog and gaze into her eyes, oxcytocin (the bonding hormone) is released into our nervous system. This shifts us from the ‘fight or flight’ response to the ‘tend and befriend’ mode, making our animals natural therapists. Pet owners live longer! Many dogs are specially trained as Therapy Dogs to visit nursing homes, schools, and hospitals to provide this feeling to those who can’t own a dog of their own. It’s not the ownership of the dog that helps us; it’s the loving bond.
Because we have evolved with dogs, being with them helps us to be fully human. When they come to us as a puppy, they can prepare us for the responsibility of having a baby. As they live with us, they demonstrate what unconditional love looks like. And since they do not live as long as we do, we can practice that very difficult art of letting go—as we love them to the very end. They show us that though death is perfectly awful, it is also a perfectly natural part of life.
They say that when you pass over, your loved ones are there to meet you. I hope that would include my dog because I would not want to go to heaven without her. I love this version of a story based on an episode of The Twilight Zone by Rod Serling. I’ve given it a more ‘pawsitive’ twist at the end.
An old man and his dog were walking down a hot, dusty road lined with a fence on both sides. As they walked along, they became very thirsty and tired. They came upon a man in flowing white robes standing just inside a gate. Behind him a path led to a beautiful, sunny meadow with a cool, clear stream running through it.
The gatekeeper told him, “You can come in, but your dog can’t come with you. This is Heaven, and dogs aren’t allowed here.” The man responded, “Well, if he can’t come in, then I’ll stay out here on the road with him. He’s been my faithful companion all his life, and I won’t desert him now.”
As they walked on, the fence became more and more rundown until the boards fell away completely leaving a gap. Another man dressed in old, ragged clothes sat just inside the broken fence under a shady tree. This man said, “Come on in and rest. Make yourself comfortable.” This time the old man responded, “I won’t come in if my buddy here can’t come too.” The man smiled and said, “Welcome to Heaven, and bring your dog!”
Questioning this response, the old man asked, “Then why did that fellow down the road say dogs weren’t allowed in Heaven?” The man replied, “That was the Devil, and he gets all the souls who are willing to give up a life-long companion. Their dogs just come on down here on their own. As soon as those people realize their mistake, they are filled with regret. But they all make their way here eventually. Hell is a state of mind, and once they realize they are free to change, they choose love, and love has a powerful pull.”
Kristie Abel is an artist and freelance editor.
Janet Abel has been teaching yoga in the area since 2001. She is an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E- RYT) certified by the Yoga Alliance, a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and a Mindful Living Consultant. For information, visit JanetAbel.com.