Amidst the dog days of summer, I decided to take advantage of the slower pace to reflect upon the importance of our canine companions. I did not grow up a “dog person.” I became one immediately upon bringing home our first golden retriever, Maverick, whom we adopted as a released puppy from the Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Three years later, we adopted a second golden retriever puppy, Kira, also from the Guiding Eyes. These two dogs have played a major role in our family’s life—in fact, sometimes I feel as though I’ve had two additional children! I wish I could say my human children helped feed, walk and care for their canine siblings. They didn’t. But they truly adored both dogs, and I am certain that they are more loving and compassionate people for having grown up alongside these special pets.
When Maverick was seven, he and I trained with the Good Dog Foundation and became a certified pet therapy team. Together, we paid weekly visits to Four Winds hospital, where emotionally distraught children snuggled, played and celebrated holidays with Maverick; we visited libraries where Maverick gamely listened to children practice their reading; we helped college students on campus de-stress during exam weeks; and we comforted victims who had lost their homes and possessions as a result of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. These pet therapy visits were among the most challenging and fulfilling days of my life.
Sadly, Maverick passed away last spring, but his spirit lives on, and will remain in my soul forever. I feel so blessed that our family adopted this gentle, devoted canine and that we were fortunate enough to have had him in our lives for 13+ years. Maverick’s sole purpose in life was to bring unconditional love and comfort to those around him—and he did this in a big way, both for our family and for all the others whose lives he touched as a therapy dog. For those who are interested, an article about Maverick was posted on the FEMA web site after Hurricane Sandy. It is a moving tribute to an extraordinary dog.
Kira, now 11, is still quite active and enjoying her “golden years” (no pun intended.) She plays every day with much younger dogs, including puppies, and has no trouble keeping up with them. Each night, my husband comes home from work and curls up alongside Kira on her dog bed, where they spoon, as he massages her belly. Kira is in constant search of affection. If anyone even glances in her direction, her tail begins to thump. If someone mentions her name, even if it’s late and she is asleep, she jumps to attention and runs over to receive hugs and love.
I have learned so much from my dogs over the years. Their tails are always wagging when someone acknowledges them. They do not talk back. They listen well, at least most of the time. Their needs are simple. So are their pleasures. They are happy to see us—any time of day or night. They always clean their plates and are grateful for a good meal. They love us unconditionally, and ask for nothing in return. Their only really bad days occur when they are ill or injured—and even then, they don’t complain. Once a dog is your friend, you are friends for life. Nothing is so bad that it can’t be made better with a face lick and a snuggle. If people treated each other the way our dogs interact with us, the world would be a far more peaceful, joyful and less stressful place. One of my favorite quotes is on a sign in my office.
Every day, this simple message reminds me that, no matter how difficult or stressful life may seem at the moment, I do have so much to be grateful for. And, at least one living, breathing being reveres me and loves me unconditionally, today and every day. This is serene contentment at its best.