In the sixty-three years that I have been alive, I have nearly always been a keeper of animals. As a child, my first memories of a family pet was a Cocker Spaniel named Mickey. Mickey made the transition from our home in Dayton, Ohio to Cape Elizabeth, Maine in 1959. My memories of Mickey are sketchy at best. I do recall he was very focused on my Mom and did not do well with our move to Maine. Mickey was replaced by Princess, a collie, who had health issues and was perpetually in heat. This was back in days of free roaming packs of neighborhood dogs, many not neutered.
We constantly had swirling masses of male dogs on our front porch, vying for the attention of Princess. It became an issue when the mailman could no longer make his way to our front door without fear of attack by sex crazed pooches looking for love. Princess went to live at a “Farm out in the country” which I know now was a euphemism for euthanasia. During this period I also had cats, parakeets, and hamsters. From all of these animals I learned what it means to be loved by a fellow creature no matter what my human mood was.
Over the intervening years the list of animals I have kept and cared for is as follows: dogs, cats, hamsters, mice, rats, snakes, frogs, turtles, lizards, fish, chickens, geese, ducks, quail, sheep, goats, parrots, horses and pigs. I have learned many things from tending to the physical and emotional well being of my non-human friends. They have been my best teachers with the overriding lesson being that one can never have enough patience in dealing with another living being be they human or not.
My current inventory of animals includes one dog (a six month old English Shepherd named Mocha), one cat, one goldfish, one python, two horses, two pigs, twelve geese, one rooster and one hen. It is about Mocha that I want to write about today. In the four months since she came to us, she has reviewed for me all that I have learned in the past about being a friend to a canine and reminded me of lessons learned but forgotten. In spending so much time with her I have come to once again realize just how valuable a teacher Mocha is to me and how much I want to be more like her.
I have no desire to exchange two feet for four, shed my smooth human skin for a hairy coat or swap fingers for paws but there are many personality attributes that she possesses that I wish to emulate. I have made a partial list which I would like to share. I am sure more will come to me as I move through this exercise. I realize full well that she is a dog and I am not. Her way of being is different than mine. She is not burdened with a brain capable of the creation of things of great beauty but sadly also capable of great cruelty. I view this lack of hers not as a negative but rather a purer way of being to which I aspire. So this, in no particular order, is what I have come up with.
Mocha is always in the moment. We human have a term for this, quite trendy at present, we call this state mindfulness. We struggle with achieving this way of being, not letting the past or the present interfere with what is happening right now. Mocha has this nailed. That moment could be the touch of my hand as I scratch her tummy or it could be the story of the woods that she is reading with her nose. Whatever is in front of her is the most important thing in the world to her. Every time we are together I remind myself of how good she is at this and how I so often fail to achieve this wonderful state.
Mocha takes pleasure in the smallest of things. I have seen her leap up in the air to catch a passing moth or find a piece of bark to be captivating. She has no filter to prevent the appreciation of these small pleasures. They are just there for her to respond to and enjoy. While I too do enjoy interacting with things that enter my consciousness, I have the burden of that big brain that colors everything that I encounter in life.
Mocha is always curious about her world. To watch her in the woods on our walks is to see this in action. She may pause to sniff a twig or look up to see a crow fly overhead or wade into the brook to investigate the sound and feel of a little waterfall. There is always something that engages her no matter where she is. It could be something as simple as the end of her tail or an ant crawling across the kitchen floor. Everything fascinates her.
Mocha is always ready for adventure. She could be sound asleep on her settle mat in the kitchen but if I propose a walk, she is on her feet and ready for whatever I or the world has to offer for fun. There is no hemming or hawing, she is instantly ready for whatever life has to offer her.
This next one is huge for me as I struggle with this in my relationships all the time. Mocha is able to love unconditionally. She gives love freely trusting that it will be received in the spirit in which it is given. I too try to do this but find myself struggling with the idea that I do not want anything in return for the love I give to others. Mocha of course appreciates it when I love her back with a friendly scratch or an invitation to climb up and join me on the sofa but she would love me even if I didn’t love her right back. Her love is so pure. It is something that I strive every day to achieve.
Mocha is always happy to see her friends. She greets all she knows and even those she doesn’t know, with energy and enthusiasm as if to say, “It is so great to see you, you just made my day!” She does not carry any grudges about anyone. All canines and humans are sources of fun and joy to her. She also makes friends easily. She is ready to play with any person or dog who she encounters, willing to share her joyful spirit with no reservations. In greeting others and in play, she seems to have boundless energy. I know that she is still a puppy and that when I was at her equivalent in human age, I too probably had much more energy than I do at my age but it is inspiring to be with her and I find her energy to be infectious.
Her tireless energy combines with her playful spirit to create a being that engenders a desire in all who meet her to be with her as much as possible. When I have to say good-bye and go off to work, it is always with a twinge of sadness, already looking forward to when we can be together again.
She is a very affectionate, a trait that I really appreciate. She does not beg for attention but is always ready to receive a good tummy rub and will respond with lavish kisses. When we are both in a settled mood, I stretch out on the couch, invite her up and we have snuggle time which I find to be a great antidote for a day full of human challenges.
She eats out of hunger, not out of habit as I tend to do all too often. Food is nearly always available to her but she will ignore it until she feels the need for it. Food is not a crutch to her. She eats to fuel her body and when her tank if full, she moves on to other things.
This list of traits of Mocha’s that I wish to weave more fully into my life will grow with time as we get to know each other better. She has been a part of our lives for just four months but as this post reveals, she has already had a profound impact on my life. She has added richness to my already full life. Having had dogs in my life for most of my life, I know that our time together will go by all too fast. It is startling to think that Mocha could potentially be my companion and beloved friend until I am in my late 70’s. I will do my best to learn from her and follow her lead, staying in the moment with her every step of the way, treasuring and savoring our shared journey for as long as we are together.
Michael Fralich a.k.a. Woodswalker