ACA Blog

Amy Johnson
Apr 16, 2010

If You Can't Be a Dog, Live Like One

Dogs have such an uncanny ability to live in the now; appreciate the good times and forgive the bad. I want to share this essay that seems to sum up my sentiments so succinctly. I am not sure whom to credit as it's been cross-posted a dozen times. I hope that it inspires you, as it has me, to remember "If you can't be a dog, live like one."

"Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a 10-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife Lisa and their little boy Shane were all very attached to Belker so they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn't do anything for Belker and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience. The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on.

Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for awhile after Belker's death wondering aloud about the sad fact that animals' lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, 'I know why'. Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation.

He said, 'people are born so that they can learn how to live a good life. Life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?' The six-year-old continued, 'well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long.'

Maybe we should learn a lesson from our best friends -- the most loving creatures on earth.

Live simply. Love generously, Care deeply, Speak kindly.

Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like: when loved ones come home run to greet them; never pass up the opportunity to go for a joy ride; allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure.

Know ecstasy. Take naps. Stretch before rising. Run, romp and play daily. Thrive on attention and let people touch you. Avoid biting when a simple growl will do. On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass. On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree. When you're happy dance around and wag your entire body. Delight in the simple joy of a long walk. Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. Stop when you have had enough. BE LOYAL. Never pretend to be something you're not. If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently. Be always grateful for each new day and for the blessing of you."

A dog's life. If you can't be one, live like one.


Amy Johnson is a counselor, lecturer, founder, and program director of the non-profit organization, Teacher’s Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together.

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