Dogs and the Joy of Living
by Rebecca Bynum (December 2012)
If ever there was an animal perfectly designed and placed on earth to remind human beings that life is short and it should be enjoyed, it is the dog. Our late little dog, Beau, was a noble little fellow, imbued with great seriousness and consecration of purpose. I remember the day (he was just a tiny puppy) when he had his first great revelation – words, that constant stream of sounds humans make mean something and he understood and responded by placing his little front feet on my chest and stiffening all over. He stared with great intentness into my eyes, as the thunderbolt of discovery shook his little being to its core. After that, he listened very closely and tried to pick out the meaning of those words. He knew the names of many people and some dogs, but the names of cats he stubbornly refused to acknowledge. Cats were lesser beings after all. They were to be tolerated, but never accepted as part of the “pack” which consisted of my husband, Beau and myself in that hierarchical order.
The little yorkie-chihuahua was always alert to all our movements and what we required of him. He traveled with us, always followed closely at my husband’s heels never requiring a leash. He broke the ice at many difficult meetings (there’s nothing like a little dog to make people relax) and even performed onstage at the Grand Ole Opry making a quick appearance at the end of my husband’s spoken word performance at Christmastime (the story was about a little boy who wished for a puppy). I would whisper in his ear, “Go see Daddy,” and then release him to trot out onto the big scary stage and be picked up for a bow to the audience. That was his job and he was proud of it, always braving the frightening sound of applause and doing his duty. His fans called him “Opry dog.” Those who knew him best referred to him as "a little man in a dog’s body." He loved the attention of adults, but didn’t care for children or other dogs. He seemed to regard their unserious playfulness with disdain.
In addition, Beau never seemed to know his true size. Once, when he challenged a seemingly friendly larger dog, he lost the sight in one eye, but he gradually adjusted to a life without depth perception and loyally soldiered on. He could still negotiate revolving doors, stairs and elevators in the various hotels we’d stay in while traveling. People would watch in awe as he trotted on and off elevators always alert to our movements, never needing a leash or a harsh word. Throughout his life, his love and trust of us never wavered, even on that oft-dreaded day in early September when we knew his trip to the vet would be his last.
The months passed by and with the coming of spring we began to think of bringing a new puppy into our lives again. Annabel Lee is a schnorkie (schnauzer/yorkie mix) who was chosen because she snuggled right up to my husband’s chin and licked his face, while her brother cried in fear at my reaching for him. She nestled in my lap for the long ride home from Cookeville and that night, while she lay on my bed, I stroked her little head as she gazed into my eyes with pure love. Softly, I addressed her, “How can you do that? How can you go through the trauma of being separated from your mother and your first family, come here and be so well-adjusted so quickly? How can you love me?” You see, I wasn't certain I could love her in return. I didn’t know if I could get over Beau enough to do so, but the truth is, I fell in love with the little creature and returned her love with a whole heart before I knew what was happening.
Her bonding with me could best be described as over-bonding. For months, if a door should come between us, even by such daily necessities as taking out the trash, she would cry and howl her little lungs out until we were reunited, at which time she would jump around excitedly, whining and hyperventilating until reassured. She still follows me through the house like a shadow and sleeps quietly at my feet while I work at the computer.
The highlight of her day is her morning walk to the park. She’s a born runner and as soon as we pass through the entrance she sits obediently, even while fidgeting excitedly, until I unhook the leash from her collar and say OK! Then she’s off - sniffing, running here and there, keeping a close eye on me for when I finally throw the ball. She loves to splash in puddles so that often we are both soaking wet and covered in mud by the time we get home. Now that it’s colder, the water isn’t quite as appealing, so I suppose I’ll have a bit of a reprieve, mud-wise until Spring. She loves to chase birds, squirrels and rabbits and seems to revel in the sheer joy of being a dog. She is the polar opposite of Beau, who ignored all wildlife and most other dogs and hated to get his feet wet.
Annabel has made several dog friends and loves to play chase, tug-of-war and keep-away with them in the big open field. There is Magee, a big champagne-colored Labradoodle about four times her size, who nevertheless plays very gently carefully and mouths her as though to claim her as his. She teases him by running just out of reach with a ball or an old red cap she found on the field and which became the tug of war toy of preference. Then there is little Campbell, an older, dignified West Highland terrier who mostly watches the fun, but will occasionally run around with them for short intervals. Her best friend is Biscuit a three-year-old female golden brown mix breed who is close to Annabel’s size. Sometimes they run and play so hard, they both lie down facing each other panting, but watching closely in case the other should make a move and run off with the ball or cap, initiating another big run.
Watching her play brings tears of joy to my eyes and it’s hard not to marvel at how easily she enjoys her life and how readily she trusts. At night, she cuddles next to me and I feel her little heart beat and wonder at how small and frail she seems. Sometimes she dreams and seems to be running and barking in her inner world. I wonder what she sees.
Often, more often than before Annabel came, that indescribable sweetness denoting the touch of God brings a pang of joy to my heart and gratitude bathes my soul as I reflect on how much God loves his creatures and provides each one the exact thing it needs at the exact time it needs it. (Behold the fowl of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap…Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.1)
I needed this little dog (although I didn’t know how much) and she was given to me in this bountiful and beautiful world. I will try to be worthy of her trust and learn to trust God with the same simplicity. Enjoying life is not that complicated.
 Matthew 6 26-28 King James version
Rebecca Bynum's latest book is Allah is Dead, Why Islam is Not a Religion.
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