Has anyone truly met a Dog unworthy of serious consideration for sainthood?
When you recognize how we all shape the way Dogs develop, who really can blame a Dog for just doing what they’ve learned to believe is natural? Growling, jumping, cowering, staying.
Or eating their annual birthday “cake.”
Adopting, fostering, dog-sitting, visiting, rescuing. Weimaraner. Whippet. Malamute. Bulldog. Shepherd. Mutt. Poodle. Beagle. Labrador. Retriever. Four-legged or three. Puppy or senior. Blind or deaf. Hudson, Paddy and Hooch, Whitmore, Buckster, Lulu, Rufus, Kissy, Barker, Spotty. Que.
Sure, some are more amenable to companionship, others wary and skittish.
Still, to look long and patiently in the eyes of just about every Dog one encounters is to gradually recognize something familiarly primal, yet ultimately ineffable.
Their subtle methods of communication, if acutely observed, can often refresh our chaotic, quixotic Human mind, with all its justifications, fears, presumptions, and skillful distractions, returning us to the practical principals and majestic mysteries of Nature.
Every single Dog is a Buddha, if one allows them to prove it. To me, at least.
Among them all, of course, the memory of one’s first Dog can’t help but linger a bit longer and deeper.
For me, as some readers might recall, that was Yeager the Weimaraner. Adopted at six, he lived into his sixteenth year, a remarkable feat defying all canine statistics given his unusually large stature and weight of one hundred pounds.
For a decade, from 2001 to 2o11, the Fourth of July weekend always had an extra zest. It wasn’t merely the birthday of our nation but of Yeager.
It was always a milestone for his human companion, complete with a “cake” of canned food and small biscuit-shaped bones he got to ravage in about a minute and a half, with hot dogs and burgers for human guests.
Sometimes the old boy endured having some sort of red-white-and-blue hat steadied on his head long enough for a snap to be taken.
The association became rather permanent: fireworks and dog birthday hat, grilling and dog birthday cake, the legacy of Jefferson and the lessons of Yeager.
As each of the last four Independence Day weekends have come and gone, that profound sense of loss that is so acute in the first months after one loses a beloved Dog companion has dulled.
Still, those association between the national holiday and the Dog’s birthday remains strong.
Even this year, enjoying the salt and sun of the sea, every other wave or two seemed to awash me with some poignancy.
Not grief, not sadness, not longing, just that recognition of time passing and with it the absence of those loved and long present.
Then another wave would roll, and the chatter of beach crowds and the glare of California sunshine would warm me all over.
Certainly, Hudson the Weimaraner, adopted in early 2014, has more than compensated as the worthy patron of affectionate attention.
Now, nearly every free moment is directed towards his well-being and that sense of satisfaction derived from mutual devotion. He is patient, gentle, friendly, trusting and zestful to the point where one can never linger beneath any shadow for any reason longer than a minute.
He is the now, the very essence of “presence.”
And, yes, now Hudson gets the annual doggie birthday surprise, cake, on his January 29th, preferring a kibble cake, trimmed in yoghurt.
Not that he’d turn down one made of salmon, beef, pork, chicken, vegetable or any other combination that didn’t include bitter apple essence.
But if one can still think along two concurrent lines, present and past, one may parallel the feelings associated with those thoughts, blending memory with the moment.
Devotion to those Dogs among us at the moment need not preclude a memory of how much learning and love one experienced by sharing life with a Dog for the very first time.
And perhaps the one regular event it is easiest to recall is the annual marking of the day they were born, just like our own. Dogs have no notion of a passing year, let alone anticipate their annual birthday (“whelpday,” to them).
An entire industry has been built on Dogs “celebrating” Halloween, or Easter or Birthdays.
Of course, as always, it is created by Humans for the enjoyment of Humans. The fact that a Dog gets a “cake” once a year is simply a suggestion to them that the Human has gone momentarily mad and put out a ton of food.
They’re not celebrating their birthday, but acting fast to gobble every morsel before the Human might come to their senses and realize they’re giving them more food than usual.
But then again, Humans domesticated Dogs into companions. And we do all we can to ensure their mental and physical health. We save the lives of Dogs every moment of every day.
Besides a meal and a walk to poop, they prize our company more than anything.
They save the lives of Humans every moment of every day, we often turning to them for solace and laughter and kindness and frequently finding it, utterly wordless, with more sincerity and commitment than from most of our fellow Humans.
So, once a year, the Dog can endure ten seconds of wearing an annoying hat for a picture. I did it for Yeager, I do it now for Hudson. I’m guessing I’m hardly the only one.
Those photographs become important to us, because even the briefest glimpse will bring back so much to recall of that lost day, refreshing our sensory memories. It may all seem a bit de trop, considering how unlikely it is we could ever really forget anything about them.
Weeks after his death, I made the video tribute to Yeager, posted below.
While reluctant to excessively indulge the personal, I feature it again as perhaps a more universal reminder to all of those who, despite wisely using their lives today to provide attentive focus on their current canine companions, can’t help but pause, more than occasionally, to remember how they loved and what they learned from their very first Dog or the most recent of a series they’ve known.
No matter how short their lives or how long ago they may have left us.