To tell you honestly, I have mixed feelings on the idea of pets. On one hand, we humans are drawn to animals and want to keep them nearby for various sometimes selfish, sometimes altruistic reasons. On the other, many animals are captured, imported, and bred just for the sake of being pets, and I am definitely against those questionable practices, especially ones where animals are deprived of their freedom and/or live in deplorable conditions.
However, there are lots of unwanted animals in shelters, and this is where things are clear for me. We owe these animals. We have domesticated them and made them dependent. We have allowed them to overpopulate. We cannot just leave them. We cannot allow them to have a miserable existence.
It is our duty to take in animals from shelters if we have the means and conditions to provide for them properly, if we can meet their physical and emotional needs. And to tell you honestly, taking in a shelter pet gives us much more than we give. We provide this animal with shelter, food, water, vet visits (when necessary), love, walks, rubs, some exercise, and attention. That’s all. So what do shelter pets give back? Plenty.
But before I tell you that, I want to tell you my dog’s story.
It all began one hot Saturday in July 2007. I convinced my then boyfriend (now husband) to go to the animal shelter. We agreed we wouldn’t take a dog home that day, just look. At least that’s what we said. I knew that we’d find someone. Maybe he did too.
We walked around looking at all the dogs, as there were mostly just dogs there. I wanted to help them all. There was lots of barking, some aggression from the older dogs that had evidently spent many years in that place. There was a smell that the heat intensified. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience, and there among all these intense sensory experiences in one of the rooms for smaller and younger dogs was this black pup who seemed a bit shy and was one of the few dogs that wasn’t barking.
It was love at first sight. We didn’t even discuss it, we just told them we wanted her, took care of all the formalities, and left them a donation.
As we weren’t prepared to take a dog home that day, we didn’t even have a leash. I carried her home in my arms. She wasn’t the lightest, and it was hot, and she has thick black fur. It got sweaty. We didn’t know what she’d do if we put her down. She didn’t know us or our intentions. I just held her and reassured her she’d be all right.
We walked to the nearest pet store to buy her a leash, shampoo and some food. We may have even bought her a toy. When we got home, we fed her and gave her my brother’s baby blanket as a temporary bed.
Those first few weeks were a struggle for us. On top of the fact that she had not been fed enough, it quickly became evident she was sick. The vet told us it’s distemper and she will die within a few days. We decided not to give up, and we gave her the best we could and all the love we could. Luckily, that vet was mistaken, and Inka has been with us almost 8 years. She has grown into a beautiful, wise, and playful dog with lots of love and confidence.
So how has Inka (my dog) made me a better writer?
Walks lead to better thinking and observation
She gave our family the gift of walks and family time spent outside, even when we don’t want to. This means spending lots of time in nature, often in silence, which allows plenty of time for thinking, developing plots, and ideas to germinate.
During these walks, I’ve also learned to pay attention – to be mindful of my body, feelings and sensations as well as of my surroundings. This has developed my observation and (hopefully) description writing skills.
I learned that ducks like apples. For those of you that knew, please don’t laugh, I genuinely had no idea. We take walks near a stream where orchards used to be, and there are still some old fruit trees. One day this past fall, I noticed a duck family that took a walk to one of the apple trees for a feast. Another day I saw crows eating pears.
Time spent in nature attunes us to life’s miracles
I get to enjoy nature more often than I would if I didn’t have a dog, which allows me to take mindfulness walks during which I stay present in the here and now and attune my senses to my experience and surroundings. It can be a euphoric experience. I’ve cried out of sheer awe at the beauty all around me.
Dogs teach us about resilience and perseverance
She’s also a good teacher of resilience. Despite her unfortunate early experiences, she has a positive outlook on life. She’s trusting and generally happy. I look at her and her approach to life and I want to emulate her. I try for the bad things not to get me down, at least not for too long. I try to always have a positive outlook.
This comes in handy as a writer. We writers have a tough job. Not only are we crazy critical of our own work, it often is rejected or not read or isn’t liked. We need to have thick skin and not let that get to us. We need to be able to get up and keep going despite it all.
My dog can be quite persistent when she wants something, like food or a walk, and that too is a good quality for writers. Writers work mostly in seclusion, often without any recognition of their genius for many years. Persistence and a good relationship with the written word keep us going. The writers that “make it” aren’t necessarily the BEST writers, but they are the ones that stick with it.
Could I have learned these lessons without having a dog?
Most likely. Would I have? Most definitely not. Although I love nature and spending time in nature, had it not been for my dog, I would not be forced to go out into nature rain or shine, hot or cold. It’s easy to be outdoors when the weather is nice, when it’s spring or summer. It’s a lot more difficult for those of us who are not hard-core nature lovers to get our butts outside into nature when the conditions are less than perfect, when it’s raining or freezing.
Anyone who has a dog will agree with me on this: NO ONE is better equipped to teach us about unconditional love than a dog.