As humans we are so deeply rooted in animals and nature, and we so often forget to engage with our surroundings every day. The woven nature of our sense of balance, companionship, consistency and above all, a true sense of unconditional love and comfort is found often in our pets. This is what the Human Animal Bond is all about.
My dogs, my sweet furry pack of friends, currently consists of Ares, our almost senior chocolate lab; Groot, our two-year-old golden x labrador mix, Unity, our lab service-puppy-in-training, and Winston, our basset hound puppy.
Over the last ten years, through lots of learning, both academically and volunteering, I quickly learned that dogs are the love of my life. As I cross paths with so many sweet dogs, each of them have taught me valuable lessons. By sharing some of these here, I aim to make space for reflection on how experiencing animals in your daily life can really help to ground and centre your being.
Lesson One: Mindfully Enjoying the Time we Have
At home, we have a few permanent members and a fluid member in our pack of friends, and I have come to know how to better cope with goodbyes because of this. I have always been a classic avoider of goodbyes – finding difficulty in the ending and finality of it all. However, as dogs come and go from our home, as we foster service dogs in training, dog sit for friends, family or community members, or our own pets pass away – I continue to fall in love with each and everyone one of them.
This has brought me to the understanding of the time and place our dogs have in our lives and hearts. I allow myself to enjoy our time together that much more. To be grounded in the moment of walking them off-leash in the field, teaching them a new skill, or petting them mindlessly on the couch – I have come to appreciate each of them differently. I find myself taking more photos, and often more videos of my dogs because I have known loss all too well with them, and love to capture the joyful moments we have together. A familiar saying reminds us that as much as our dogs and pets are a part of our lives, we are often their whole lives – and I make sure I celebrate that bond every day.
Lesson Two: Watching Expressions
Especially in today’s climate, our facial and body expressions as humans make a big difference in our daily communication with others. Expression plays just as big of a role in our interactions with our dogs, and sometimes we just don’t know it. Not speaking the same language might pose a problem for some – but for us dog (and other pet) owners, body language and expression can practically be read by one another.
I take a step back to reflect on communication – the “puppy dog eyes” I often get from Groot, or the quiet, sad bark of the Basset- they are trying to tell me something. It’s probably dinner time. But I love to learn how they express themselves, maybe not as obvious as signalling me to dinner time. Unity is very in tune with her people around her, and can read my expression like no other. If I am getting upset in any way – either crying with frustration or sadness, or my voice is getting louder in any way – she will come and interrupt me. Honestly of all the dogs I’ve known and grown close to, none have done that for me. Again while it will be hard to say goodbye to her as she continues on with her training, I will think of her often, especially when I am upset. And that is more comforting than anything.
Lesson Three: Unconditional Nature
This last lesson is dedicated to my sweet boy Ares, who has truly given me the gift that is unconditional in nature. While I write about some transient connections in my life with dogs, Ares is the one dog who has been around the block. He is always happy to see me when I get home; is waiting on my bed every night for me; always sleeps on my pile of laundry before I can fold it; and always brings me such joy when I see his little tail wag. He has moved from house to house, province to province with me and always settles right in with me. I could be gone for weeks at a time on a trip, and he has always been the biggest welcome home. He is my true pal, my constant, my balance in a world that is so often changing.
I share these lessons with you that may seem obvious to some, but sometimes we just need a small reminder to ground us in the moment we’re in, and enjoy it for all that moment is worth. Take the time to slow down and give yourself or others the space to reminisce about dogs they used to have or know, when they might not otherwise have that space. I find joy in hearing people’s tales of their past tails, and know the future has so many more to come.