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When I Become a Dog Person

I call my friend Rosanne because I am overwhelmed, so much more than sad, at the latest eruption of violence. She tells me today is the Chinese New Year, the beginning of the year of the EarthDog. She reads to me what that portends—last year it was Fire Rooster igniting us to rise up and act, and this year the EarthDog energy will ground us and help us align with deeper values, with universal love, respect, awareness of the Sacred. I am comforted by her words. I choose to be.

Then I remember. “Oh my, this morning I had this beautiful dream,” I tell her, “I don’t remember anything about it except that there was a large dog lying near me. It was dark brown, and thick-furred, and just to gaze at him made me feel so good and safe. Like everything was okay. … But what’s weird is I’ve never had a dog. For most of my life I didn’t even like dogs …”

I am four or five years old and our family has a little dog named Peppy. One day, the dog who lives across the street jumps on me and scrapes my nose with his sharp teeth. The next time Peppy yelps and jumps in the bathtub with my sisters and me, I don’t like it. Soon we move again and our dog can’t come with us, I don’t know what happened to Peppy. Later, I’m seven and proudly riding my bike around the block when a strange dog starts barking and chasing me. He bites into my calf. I carry these memories for decades, justifying my dislike, clinging to my identity as a non-dog person. Confirming that we get what we expect, whenever I visit friends with dogs, I always notice their loud, obnoxious behavior (the four-legged ones’). I can make quite a case in favor of cats. 

About ten years ago, I drive up into northern California to visit my friend Jeanene who lives in a solid, airy ranch house that she and her husband had built. We’d been friends from junior high and into our twenties, and then we lost track of each other. She greets me warmly as her little dog barks and, of course, leaps up on me. I give her my “not a dog person” story and she is so apologetic. For the next few days, the dog is banished from the house. Because of me.

My last morning there, we hike up the hill behind her house. We were to hike in silence, and upon finding a spot at the top of the ridge, sit, meditate and write. Then share our writings. The little dog is at my heels as I start up the hill but when Jeanene starts to shoo him, I realized it’s way past time to get over this self-created “identity” out of ancient, half-remembered discomfort. I say no, it’s okay. Let him be.

The little dog stops barking immediately. He stays at my heels as I hike. He lays down beside me in the warm sun as I meditate (on opening the heart) and write.


Mike and me with Sam Kasser, Best Dog Ever

A couple hours later I’m leaving to drive back to Berkeley. Jeanene and I share a long, deep embrace, and I hop into the rental car. I’m almost to the end of her windy driveway, when I switch on the radio. Immediately I’m listening to an NPR station, which for the next 45 minutes broadcasts a show about the relationship between dogs and their people. The host tells his stories, the callers tell theirs. Story after story about the life-saving, soul-deepening, transformative devotion shared between beast and human. Teary-eyed, I take it all in, thinking, Geez, when the Universe sees you’re ready to let go of something, it doesn’t waste any time.

One late fall afternoon, early in our relationship, Mike and I are walking in DC and arrive at a small triangular park near DuPont Circle. A dozen or so people are there—still in their nice work clothes but letting their dogs, who I imagine have been waiting all day for this, romp and frolic and greet their friends. Mike pets and flirts with every dog that lets him. My sister calls on my cell and we chat. I glance back to where Mike was, and see that he is now lying flat on the ground with half a dozen dogs on top of him, their owners running over to pull them off. Mike is obviously enjoying all this canine affection!

Later, still laughing, he tells me he had just knelt to play with one dog when the whole gang came over and knocked him down. I have so much to learn from this man. And also from the creature we’re bound to have someday.  When I fully become a Dog Person.




About the EarthDog from Chinese astrology:   “The Dog is loyal, steady… fair, effective and passionate. His ideals and morals are not only above reproach, but direct the Dog’s focus.  He is the open-minded sentry who is guarding the interest of the public at large by preserving social goals.  The Dog is intelligent, honest, straightforward and has a sense of equality and fair play …. likes to meet people half way and is good at listening and offering reason …. The Earth element brings a sense of calm to the already steady Dog. This will bring efficient and constructive thinking; moving ahead slowly with purpose; kind hearted spirit and practical versus sentimental.    The Earth Dog is quiet and will not abuse powers given to him . . .”  Cindy Cox, Astrologer

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