A Good Dog

September 28, 2006

Out this week is the new book by Jon Katz, A Good Dog. Truthfully, I only skimmed this MSN article, because I haven’t any personal experience with aggressive dogs. I’ve been blessed that way, I suppose. What did fascinate me, though, was Katz’ discussion of Hannah Arendt’s collection of essays, Responsibility and Judgment, and the way he worked through his own moral code to come to his decision regarding Orson.

I felt old, weary, and sad.

So, I read. Moral conduct, Arendt wrote, depends mostly on the discussions we have with ourselves. We must not contradict ourselves by making exceptions in our own favor. We must not place ourselves in positions in which we would have to despise ourselves.

“It certainly is not a matter of concern with the other but with the self,” she’d written. “The standard is neither the love of some neighbor nor self-love, but self-respect.”

It did not matter what other people, or other dog lovers, would do or would think of whatever I decided. It mattered what I thought of myself; the respect I needed to seek was my own. The world is filled with people of certainty, who have a sure sense of what others ought to do. Nowhere were they more numerous than in the vast network of people and institutions that constituted the dog culture. Yet if life with dogs had taught me anything, it was to be less, not more, certain. Animals have ways of teaching you that for all your books, vet, Web sites, and holistic practitioners, you are not in control. Animals live by their own lights.

On my way to work this morning, I tried to stop and reason through my own personal unhappiness. At no other time in my life have I been so blessed, but the nagging sense of unrest remains. “What do I need to be happy?” I asked myself. (Yes, I talk to myself . . . occassionally . . . AND, I answer myself.)

“Nothing,” came the reponse.

“Then just be happy.”

Can it be that simple? Or have I been denying myself? What about my moral code, the inner compass that keeps me focused and grounded? Where has that gone these last few years? Has it been there with me, or could I have made better decisions? We can all play the victim, if we want to. And believe me, these last couple of years, I have wanted to.

It’s funny how karma works, though. The people who have tried the most to hurt us are themselves, the most hurting people I know. Everything they have taken from us has been returned double, and they are none the happier for it. In fact, it pretty much just pisses them off that they haven’t been able to dent our love nest. Such is the nature of love, projected (and real) anger and jealousy.

When I think of learning from my animals, their mindfulness is the first thing I think of. That they can be so in-the-moment. Grizzly taught me about loyalty and doing what was right. And letting people know when they need to back off. Personal space, people. Can I get some personal space?!

Smokey reminds me to enjoy those rapturous moments when all is right with the world. In his case, when the tennis ball is in the air coming his way. (I do wish you could all see his “happy dance” when he runs around the yard in circles like a maniac after the first ball retrieval. It’s quite a sight!)

And Banished Cat has taught me to ask for what I need. Meow. Food. Meow. Shelter. Meow. Hold me. And he’s also taught me to never give up, even when the door shuts. But also, that if it gets too cold, to go and find someone who will care for me better than the woman (or man) who shuts the door in my face. Idealism only goes so far.

How about you? Have you ever had an experience where you felt like an animal taught you something? I know there are cynics in the world who don’t believe in the power of animals. I am not one of those. (I’m a different kind of cynic!) Happy Thursday, all!



  1. this was one of the best blog posts I’ve read in a while…

    My dog has indeed taught me many things, but mostly, that your pack (or your family) is what you really need to make you happy. Everything else can come into balance from there. Keep those that are important to you, in your mind and heart at all times.

  2. Thank you for your nice compliment and contribution. That “pack” instinct is strong, isn’t it? I think we would probably all do better to heed it more often. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Beautiful Angela… i am a HUGE believer in the power of our four-legged friends… they are capable of such unconditional love, how can anyone NOT understand their ability to provide us with comfort and joy? xox

  4. Thanks, Neva. I think that only people who have blocked their heart don’t understand the power that loving and being loved by an animal provides. I can only imagine where I would be without the love of my animals. I feel blessed to have known them.

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