Monday, December 6, 2010

"A Dog's Purpose" and the dogs in my life


I recently read A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron on my kindle. I have to say, I was a little intimidated of it because I didn't want to get to sad. It's been a rough year for me, having lost one dog and two cats (Heather and my parent's cat Sami), and I was sure the book would trigger something in me. But yet, sometimes you have to face those emotions.

What I liked about this book is that the main character (whose name changes throughout the book) reincarnates in different dogs after he passes. It is actually a nice way to think about what could happen when a dog dies. It was interesting to see him change in form, location, and have different relationships, with his personality and memories staying with him.

A philosophical pup he was, wondering his purpose in life. This arose after he had an opportunity to be with humans after being stray. I sort of wonder whether that need be a question that dogs really ask. That is a very human-like thing to ascribe a purpose or meaning to things beyond what they just are. I feel that in actuality a dog would accept life at face value. However Bailey (his name for the longest portion of the book) questioned as a human would, and it perhaps made the book more appealing to humans.

Another theme of the book is actually love. And the relationships dogs have with humans. I actually loved reading about his interactions with the other dogs the most. But, having lived with dogs almost all my life, I know a lot about the love between a dog and a human.

Because Bailey took different forms in his lives, I started to think about the different dogs who have come in and out of my life.

The first was Smudge (no picture available), an English Spring Spaniel. He was alive when I was born and died when I was just 4 years old. One of my strongest memories of him is of his burial. So death and dogs is not a foreign concept to me. I was unable to deal with the concept at that age and my baby brother was born just a few months later. It was a chaotic time. Smudge's life in my mind is more from scraps of stories my parents told about him, a wild city-turned-country dog who loved adventure and mischief.

My sister-dog, Nellie, another English Springer Spaniel, was around since I was quite little. There are pictures of her and I when I was but 2 or 3 and she was a wee puppy. She was a wonderful dog. So protective of us, in a quiet way. I remember her just being there. She'd lay at our feet during dinner or watching TV. She took walks with me into the woods and later bike rides into town. She was allowed to do as she pleased, and had a lot of wisdom and strength to her.

When Nellie got old, I was unable to handle it. When she smelled funny I pushed her away and when she had an accident in the house I was repulsed. I was unable to care for her then and was upset with her for getting old. When she was put down, I was already detached from her, but it still hurt.

After Nellie died we still had the cat Daisy, the tabby, who was very independent (the cats in my life deserve their own post, and will get one in due time). Then when she died we adopted Sami, another cat. I had toyed with the idea of another dog but I was living with my parents, very young, and they had resigned themselves to never having a dog again.

About 5 years later, when I found Zuki, the black lab mix it was a surprise. I had wanted a dog in the back of my mind, but never so strongly as that moment I saw him. When we rescued him from the side of the road, he was so full of life and love that it was impossible not to love him. He had a love for people but also adventure. But he was loyal. He'd always prefer us to others, although he basked in their affection, particularly if they offered food.

I could go on about Zuki for ages. I can barely think of him without getting tears in my eyes because our bond was so deep. I relied on him for strength, calm, certainty, and his dependence as well. In many ways I feel he was my "dog soulmate" if such a thing is possible. But I still have more love to give a dog and will not cut my heart off to the species.

Sienna, a pit bull mix, came into my life shortly after Zuki did. She's a spunky little girl who was needy in a way I'd never known another dog to be. You could feel the baggage she carried from her past life before us. Her history as a mother always makes me wonder about what she left behind. She shows such passion to be with others, particularly new people and a lot of playfulness with other dogs, particularly puppies. She is in many ways still a puppy herself, still chewing here and there and getting into the trash.

At 10, Sienna's slowing down a bit but still has so much love in her. She will abandon us for a guest who comes for the night, but most nights cuddles right by my side, a total snuggle bug. Sienna is probably the least dog-like of all the dogs that have come into my life. She stares you right in the eye without blinking. She's a strong dog who knows what she wants.

Ellie, a chow-collie, represents the latest generation of dogs in my life. A new breed, a new personality to get used to. She's very calm indoors (aside from when there's critters on the porch) and very excited outside. She's got a strong instinct to track and chase. My times that I feel closest to her are when I am ready to give her what she wants, like going out. She jumps on me in a hugging type of way. She's not very in tune with us yet, having lived on her own and not relied on humans much, and humans may have been cruel at best. The signs that she is protective, live barking when the someone knocks at the door, show that she does care about us and sees us as a pack.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to have had these dogs come into my life. It is so hard that their lives are shorter than humans and we have to say goodbye to them so many times in a human lifetime. But to never have loved a dog would be a shame.

I adopt a dog for the sake of giving them a good home and the care they deserve. Though I hope for an attachment and bond selfishly, because I know how much love can develop between a dog and a human. I don't think it's wrong to want love back. Although the love of dog should not be an excuse to breed more dogs while millions die in shelters.

A dog's love is special, and each dog has his or her own way of showing it. As humans we are often so disconnected from nature, yet dogs can be a connection to the part of the world that isn't about words, culture, or money. They are windows to another way of looking at the world, unburdened in many ways by human fetters.

A Dog's Purpose not only shows the love between dog and human, but appreciates the nature of a dog and celebrates it. And for that it's a great read.

BITT OF PAW RATING: 4 1/2 paws  (out of 5)

PS: Word is the book's being made in to a movie. Sienna and Ellie would love to audition as extras for some "dog park" scenes. Where do I send casting tapes?

1 comment:

Vegan Dog's Life said...

What a beautiful post this is, Aimee. I loved meeting all of the dogs in your life.

It is sad that dogs have such a short life, but I heard something one time that made sense. It went something like this- dogs live life with such gusto and to such a full extent that their shorter lives equal a longer human's in that way. It certainly makes sense to me.