Last week I stumbled across something on a social media platform of some sort and it made me pause. It was a short narrative by an unknown author extolling the great joys of having dogs in one’s life as a response to detractors. I didn’t know it at the time, but it went on to become more important than I could have imagined last week. As the loving owner of three older dogs, intellectually one knows that hard days may be ahead but it’s not until it happens that the true weight of the situation hits home. Such was the case last week when I lost one of my great friends and furry little son, Cody. We adopted him 14 years ago, the second of three dogs we would rescue, as a playmate for our other dog. He became so much more to us though and over the course of those 14 years truly became not just a part of my family, but one of my best friends. Cody was diagnosed with cancer early last week and within days we had to say goodbye to him. It was fast, which is merciful, but it has also made it harder for me to deal with. As I said, with three dogs ages 15, 14 and 13, the inevitable isn’t a mystery to me, but the emotional side of it is something far different. Today I want to share that important narrative I found last week as well as some other thoughts on Cody and what he and all dogs teach us about life.
Just a Dog
From time to time people tell me, “Lighten up, it’s just a dog,” or “That’s a lot of money for just a dog.”
They don’t understand the distance traveled, time spent, or costs involved for “Just a dog.” Some of my proudest moments have come about with “Just a dog.” Many hours have passed with my only company being “Just a dog,” and not once have I felt slighted. Some of my saddest moments were brought about by “Just a dog.” In those days of darkness, the gentle touch of “Just a dog” provided comfort and purpose to overcome the day.
If you, too, think it’s “Just a dog,” you will probably understand phrases like “just a friend,” “just a sunrise,” or “just a promise.” “Just a dog” brings into my life the very essence of friendship, trust, and pure unbridled joy. “Just a dog” brings out the compassion and patience that makes me a better person. Because of “Just a dog” I will rise early, take long walks and look longingly to the future.
For me and folks like me, it’s not “Just a dog.” It’s an embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future, the fond memories of the past, and the pure joy of the moment. “Just a dog” brings out what’s good in me and diverts my thoughts away from myself and the worries of the day.
I hope that someday people can understand it’s not “Just the dog.” It’s the thing that gives me humanity and keeps me from being “Just a man” or “Just a woman.”
So the next time you hear the phrase “Just a dog,” smile, because they “just don’t understand.”
– Author Unknown
What Dogs Teach Us About Life
I’ve written about my dogs a few times on this site, but probably not as much as I should have. I try to keep things pretty narrowly focused on the travel experience itself, but excuse me today for this diversion as I not only pay proper respects to Cody, but also share why this is such a significant moment in my life. Cody, and my two other pups, have given me so much more than I could have ever repaid. Not just in terms of pure happiness, but in helping me grow up into a proper adult and learn to appreciate life a little bit more. I was a shockingly young 28 years old when we adopted Cody, and not even I can believe how much has happened in those intervening years and how very much I have changed, nearly all for the better. Eulogizing Cody here on the site would be interesting only for me, and I know that. So instead of reflecting on squirrels chased (1,210) or Cody’s fondness for ice cream, I instead want to share some important lessons about life that all dogs teach us, not just mine, and why it’s so important to follow their lead in how we approach life.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
As the proud parent of Siberian Huskies, and as someone who works from home, I have spent a lot of time in the companionship of dogs, watching them and observing how they act on a day-to-day basis. One important lesson that my dog Cody taught me is how to react to little problems in life. From his calm demeanor when someone knocks unexpectedly at the door or, more recently, how he’s dealt with illness it has always been with the same, easy going attitude. The same can’t be said of our other dogs, it is instead a personality trait unique to him. He is absolutely implacable in the face of adversity, like a fighter pilot heading into enemy territory. This calm under pressure attitude was an important lesson to me, not just in life but in how I react to adversity while traveling as well. The typical travel experience, no matter where you go or what you do, is fraught with minor problems. Cars break down, we miss trains, lose luggage, spend too much money and many more small concerns that are all part of traveling. Something that I’ve had to learn over time is how to deal with these truly minor concerns in a manner that is reflective of the issue. Missing a train is not the end of the world, another train will come and I will hop on it and be on my way. It is a waste of time and energy to get overly upset about something that is over and done with. No amount of yelling or sulking will bring that train back or, in a larger sense, change whatever situation you’re in. Instead you need to take a deep breath, step back and find a solution instead of harping on the problem itself.
Be Cautious But Not Fearful
All of my dogs were rescued, but it was our first one that came from a truly bad situation. I’m not sure what happened to her before we found her, but it wasn’t good. While she has definitely mellowed out over the years, she still has a certain edge that she will never lose. At any new situation, be it visiting someplace different or a stranger at the front door, she is very cautious and skittish, approaching things with a great deal of caution. Once she has scouted things out, she’s then fine; she doesn’t let fear define the experience for her. The same can easily be applied to the travel experience. No matter where we go, whether it’s New York or New Delhi, we need to always approach new situations with healthy caution and skepticism, but not to let that turn into fear, controlling how we visit a new place. I often get asked if I’m ever scared visiting certain areas around the world. The answer is no, because I would never put myself knowingly into a dangerous situation and I always approach everything new with a “trust but verify” mentality. You have to be like this when you travel, it’s always good to keep a slight edge instead of being overly trusting, but never let that turn into outright fear. It’s fear that holds us back in life and it’s fear that prevents many from experiencing some amazing activities when they travel.
Kindness Will Always Be Returned
Truman once said that if you want a friend in Washington, then get a dog. That’s true anywhere of course, these lovable canines give more love than we could ever return without even an inkling of an ulterior motive. It’s just their nature to give love, but they also certainly appreciate it when it’s returned back to them. This amazing experience happens all the time, but is particularly special when we travel. It doesn’t cost us anything to be nice, to do simple gestures of kindness for others and most times that kindness is returned to us many times over. The chance to extend a hand in aid or provide a shoulder in comfort arises when least expected and creates a bond not only between people but cultures as well. This act of kindness though is certainly not one sided, as you too will find that hand or shoulder from a stranger when you least expect it, but most need it.
Thank you all for this brief diversion from my normal posts. This has been a body blow, no doubt there, but even just writing this has helped me more than I ever thought possible and for that I am grateful.
In Memoriam: Cody 2003 – 2018