When we think of a person’s relationship to a dog, we often think of the timeless cliché: a dog is Man’s best friend. And while there is often a lot of truth to that (I mean, Smitty really is my best friend), we often exploit that relationship and become engulfed in our selfishness. And our own rhetoric reflects that: the dog is my best friend; I own her; I train her to follow my rules. In a lot of ways there is nothing wrong with that—we have domesticated the animal, so we need to ensure we all can live comfortably together. But what I found this week as I rescued an abandoned dog off the Blue Ridge Parkway is that this language of domination often transforms into a selfishness that leaves this animal—an animal that we have stripped from instinct—in a state of helplessness.
When my visiting parents and I arrived at the trailhead at Balsam Mountain, a park Ranger and some hikers informed us that this wide eyed, wiggly, smiling pup at my feet was left by her owner and had been around quite a long time. Within minutes, the Ranger left, the hiker left, and the dog remained panting in the afternoon sun. After some discussion, we decided to ensure she had water, complete our hike, and see if she was still alone when we returned. Three hours later, the dog confusedly walked from hiker to hiker at the trailhead while numbers of hikers expressed concern. But then those hikers disappeared, all worried but not worried enough. When I put her in the backseat of mom’s squeaky-clean Volvo (thanks, mom), I was reminded of what it means to serve, to take responsibility, and to put the needs of another’s before our own. And of course people do this everyday on a grand scale—our military, teachers, etc.—but most do not. Instead, we often make excuses: I live too far to take the dog, my husband hates dogs, our car is too full. And the dog remains alone. So it’s not just the abandoner that’s irresponsible, but also the dozens of people who don’t follow their heart and instinct to help another.
I sound a little preachy, I know. And I’m no hero, I know. I’m just one of the lucky ones that at the moment a decision had to be made, I could be cognizant of my own selfishness. And of course with this decision come a myriad of more decisions to be made—do we keep her? Find her a home? Vet visit? But when this new dog, “Balsam,” snuggles her snout on one side of Jeremy on the couch and Smitty snuggles on the other side of me, it is all worth it. We need them as much as they need us, and while there are many philosophical discussions that can be had on what that means, and while it’s true that we are still going to train her to our needs, it is clear that both person and dog are happy and healthy.
And I think decisions like this are one more way to live an uninhibited life. “Uninhibited” doesn’t mean free from decisions or responsibility. Rather, it means to give in to the truth at heart, to instinct. So just as food, exercise, and gardening lead me in the direction of a healthier mind, body, spirit, so does cognition and awareness.