“No matter how little and how few possessions you own, having a pet makes you rich.”
– Louis Sabin
By Dr. Sheena Thamman *
I got my first dog, a 10-day-old black and tan Dachshund pup, when I was around 12 years of age. I got him as a gift from my father. He was so small that I was scared to hold him, thinking that I might end up hurting him. Named Euro, he was with us for 9 years. I have not been able to forget him – at all. The loss of a dog hits really hard. After Euro, I decided never to keep a dog again. But, the heart is fickle a thing and before my parents could know, I had brought home another Dachshund very similar to Euro. That’s how I became a pet owner once again. His name is Shampy and he has been with me for 6 years now. I love him very much and he makes me a better person in every way.
For dogs, we humans, and especially as their owners, are the best beings in the entire universe. I get to see this in Shampy everyday as he hops down from the bed full of excitement when he sees me come back from work after a long day apart. But, each time he runs towards me, I ask myself, if I deserve the role that my dog has given me? If not, then can I live with myself disappointing, as it were, little Shampy? The answer is obviously no. That is how he makes me a better person. He guides me to actually be the person he thinks of me as. I don’t think I will be able to live with myself if I disappoint him. For that, I want to be as best a person in the universe as possible.
The first step, I have realised, is through the removal of inhibitions we have against other human beings. This too, I learnt from my dog. When Shampy was younger, he didn’t like meeting other dogs or playing with them. He was either too scared or too angry at them. But, one day I took him for a dog event and left him to meet other dogs in a more friendly and carefree environment. At the event, Shampy, though shy and angry at first, slowly started to get comfortable as he met other dogs. Quite soon he was playing with them and it had become very difficult for me to hold on to him as he pranced about with his new-found friends. It took him almost 2 years to leave his inhibitions behind. There are many things that take us down in life, but we should gather the courage to leave behind our fears and move forward.
It is in this rather innocent and simplistic manner that every pet, and not just my dog, draws us out of ourselves and brings out the kindest impulses of humanity. They connect us to nature and the rest of the animal kingdom. Our pets unlock a deeper, more wholesome part of ourselves – a part more compassionate, less arrogant, more responsible and loyal; a part that is willing to share our lives fully with other beings in the world. Unlike humans, a pet loves in any and every situation. They aren’t concerned with which religion we belong to, how much money we earn, how we look, or how we dress. They accept us the way we are. It is in this impartial, unstoppable acceptance that a pet teaches us what true happiness really means – where we live and love impartially.
To live and love, we desperately need to focus on our present rather than worry about the future or carry the baggage of the past – distant or near. A dog, I have seen through my personal experience, teaches us what it means to embrace the present and enjoy the little things that we get in life. One day, for example, I felt like buying something for Shampy. I bought him a small ball which just made some weird noises. When he saw it, he loved it so much that he was up playing with it the entire night. Like a child, he became so happy having that simple toy that we as humans wouldn’t look at twice. All he had in his eyes was the shine and spark of true innocence that we forget as we become experienced adults. We need to love and value the small things which we have in our lives; live in the moment of innocence and hope to retain it throughout our lives as Shampy does. One of the ways to do this is to always be grateful – for the lives we have, for the present that we are in, and for the companions we have. Our pets show this simplicity in gratitude. From their happiness at the tiniest things to their constant concern about our well-being, our pets become more human and humane than we are.
But it is not only in the interaction with their humans that our pets show us the finer aspects of life. Our pets, much like us humans, are social creatures and don’t tend to survive well in solitude. In fact, they love attention at all times and will do anything for their owner’s praise and love. Being alone can, at times, be quite stressful for them. But, more often than not, they learn to be self-sufficient as well. A lot of pets use their alone time to take a nap or engage in other favourite activities such as playing with toys, digging, chasing birds and so on. On normal days, for example, when I enter my house, Shampy comes running to me and all he wants is my undivided attention. But then, there are days when he is so busy with himself that he doesn’t even seem to care about what is happening around him. All that interests him are his toys, chewing bones, sleeping, and sitting outside the house to look at the birds, people, and cars passing by. This self-sufficiency which Shampy displays goes a long way to tell me that regular time alone is important for us humans as well. It puts things into perspective, relieves our stress, and ushers us towards happiness through personal satisfaction.
In fact, such an inculcation of perspective can be seen (and learnt) through the mimicking of our pets into understanding priorities. Pets always give first priority to their humans rather than someone else. When I return home from work after having a tiring or an awful day, as soon as the gate opens, my dog leaves whatever he is doing, and runs towards me to greet me (except the few times he doesn’t because he prioritises his peace first). His sloppy kisses and furry warmth make my day much better, and I often forget how bad my day has been.
Such prioritisations, to us or to others as the case may be, allow us to forge stronger human bonds. Knowing and expressing our feelings by giving priority to someone else makes them happy. This, in turn, is bound to make us happy; especially because human relationships are always tough. It is easy to advice others that they should forgive and let go of things bygone. But when it comes to us, it is equally difficult to follow these pearls of wisdom.
We experience setbacks, have missteps, broken promises, or shattered relationships that cause us to lose faith in other people. This loss in faith lingers on even when we don’t want it to. Animals, on the other hand, are the more forgiving beings. Sometimes when things are not going right in our lives, we are frustrated and we end up yelling at our pets. But when we realise that we mistreated them, and go back to pet them they meet you with the same enthusiasm, same love and care that they would have otherwise. No matter what kind of treatment our animal companions experience, they don’t hang on to the past, hold a grudge or complain about it. Letting go of things is important in life. Sometimes it is better to move on than being stubborn about it.
Obviously, this moving on is not easy. We humans are, after all, creatures that remember our pasts, our relationships, and our lives that have been. But, we have to remember that the attainment of happiness is always in opposition to an encounter with loss. This, fundamentally, is what my relationship with both Euro and Shampy has taught me. Our pets will, more often than not, die before us. This loss is, undoubtedly, heart breaking. But, to come to terms with death is a necessary facet of living a life; for life and death work together in tandem. We cannot be bogged down by loss, for life can only be found in moving ahead. In bringing Shampy home and having spent 6 years with him, I have definitely learnt that we need to move on.
* Author is a passionate pet parent and animal lover.