She belonged to a good friend of mine and I was fortunate enough to share her affections every now and again. My memories are filled with her giddy barks as she ran aimlessly along trails through woods, and the way she eagerly greeted me each time, tail wagging and eyes shining, waiting for a simple pat on the head, or stroke on the tummy (and she always rolled over when she saw me, in anticipation).
When she passed, my friend was filled with regret – which is common when you have to make a choice to put your dog down. She deserved better, he said. I suppose we will never know what an animal feels when it is sick or during its last few minutes of life. But the best I could do was remind him about the bond he had with her. The time he took to prepare home-made dog food to ensure she had a healthy diet. The times he would take her to the pet store and bathe her, brush her teeth and the countless camping trips they took together, alone. And the late nights when he came home, exhausted, but attending to her first, taking her for walks on cold, winter nights.
He laughed at the memory of her defensive barks and fierce growls as she made it her business to protect their campsite from bears and the odd family of Canada geese that dared to swim ashore from the rivers. A gentle spirit she was, but fiercely protective of those she loved.
She was a good soul and we know the strength of a good soul, because they continue to teach and inspire long after their physical body has expired. She did what most humans are incapable of doing – she loved unconditionally. The ability to evolve into a being that can love, forgive and give selflessly is one that is truly on the right path to nirvana – Buddhism’s theory about the path to enlightenment. As I consoled my friend, I started wondering who the more evolved beings really are.
The memories of this golden retriever is almost tied with a great quote that I heard in 2013, which goes something like this - we need to interact with others in order to grow and learn, even though so many of those interactions may be negative and hurtful. It’s the ones that hurt the most that really teach us the most.
So what did I learn from this wonderful dog who passed away?
I realized that maybe the ones we regard as the weaker ones, are truly the strongest ones. The ability to love without conditions, support without judgement, heal through simple presence and communicate profoundly through silence, are skills that humans have still yet to master. We put a lot of stock in physical strength, judgements over others, the need to rule the ones we perceive as weak through dogmatic rules and the never ending need for power - the strong desire to be better than our neighbour to feed our own ego.
However, complex brains lead to complicated lives and perhaps it’s unrealistic for us to live as simply as animals do. But one thing’s for sure. I know that when a dog like this one passes away, she achieves nirvana.
Of that, I’m sure.
Happy New Year.