What my elderly dog is teaching me

In human terms, my elderly Dalmatian is well over the age of 80 teaching me many lessons on the passing of form and inevitability that comes with life‘s seasons.

Since Klara first raced into my arms at the age of four months I‘ve known her as my best motivating coach for long walks where she would race ahead tail wagging with joy as she utilized all senses of sound, smell, and touch in complete situational awareness.

From my earliest childhood, I‘ve had dogs around me, and believe they are creatures sent by the Creator to help us become better humans. I was devastated when at the age of three we had to leave our Ridgeback mix „Pajatz“ at the farm in South Africa when the family moved to town.

One of the distant memories is Pajatz constantly standing guard around me. I would gently stroke him behind his ears as he nudged his cold nose into my face. On one occasion he instantly killed an approaching poisonous snake. Dogs are loyal and love unconditionally like few humans can. They will not hesitate one moment to sacrifice their lives in order to save yours.

They will be the first to greet you when you come home. My fox terrier „Stompie“ would be heading for the garden gate some minutes before I came home from school in boundless joy as if we had been separated for weeks as soon as I arrived.

Dogs are emotional shifters

All stressful thoughts and experiences of the day would be instantly removed as „Stompie“ demanded his pat and bring me a ball for him to chase. Later in life during my job at a news agency in Hamburg, Germany I would sometimes bring my dog Akim along. He was a great shifter of toxic emotions. 

Very often colleagues coming to me with an issue would forget the problem after „conversing“ with Akim who even featured in a widely publicized article on the positive effects of well-behaved dogs on office staff.

Klara was my constant companion and sounding board when I dealt with separation, a very stressful divorce, and giving up a home of more than 20 years. Strapped in the passenger seat of my car we took a two-day journey to our new home in Majorca, Spain. She was the star of the show every time we stopped at a petrol station traveling through France.

In contrast to rainy, foggy northern Germany the Mediterranean island of Majorca in our first month on the island offered beautiful blue sky and comfortable walking temperatures in the low 20 degrees Celsius.

With Dalmatians relatively rare in Spain, I every so often hear enthusiastic children running toward us with shouts of „Dalmata“. Klara would stand with stoic calm as an entire school class would converge on her with each child wanting to touch her.

Like dogs, we are social beings

Being rather an introvert my dogs have helped me converse with total strangers and taught me much about happiness and relationships. We have such an affinity to dogs and they to us because we are social beings who thrive when interacting with others. We need our tribe, our herd, our pack, community, friends, and neighbors to stay mentally healthy. Dogs tied to a leash or kept in a pen all day become aggressive and neurotic. Humans living in reclusive isolation become depressed. Solitary confinement over an extended period is one of the worst forms of torture.

During our five years on the island, we have explored mystical paths in the Tramuntana mountains, climbed several 1000-meter peaks, and walked many of the most beautiful beaches, coves, and forests.

Yet, gradually as age takes its inevitable toll I‘ve noticed stiffness in her legs and body. She needs more rest and sleep. Recent health issues included removing two infected teeth and a lump on her leg. But Klara will still follow me with determined loyalty wherever I go and it‘s now my responsibility to choose trails where she is still comfortable and will not over-exert herself.

Wisdom comes with age

While younger dogs throw a yapping tantrum, Klara will stand with calm presence as if saying: „Not important. Seen it all. Heard it all. Let‘s now attend to other matters.“

It’s an important life lesson that I have transferred into my return-to-work programs for staff coming back into the workplace after a long-term illness. Unforeseen accidents, life-threatening diseases, and symptoms of age are external circumstances out of your control that will force you into surrender. 

A dog will never mull over that which was and is no more. It is all about what is possible in the here and now. What is still good? What is possible? What can I be grateful for?

We will be making the best of Klara‘s remaining time before she departs for doggy heaven. Life passes us by in rapid succession. What do you do with the remaining days you have left? What relationships need nurturing? What thoughts, beliefs, illusions, and regrets need to be given up? 

As form declines and dissolves awareness grows that spirit in its essence never perishes As the great 13th century Mystic Meister Eckhart is quoted as saying: „In eternity all things are present.“ Or as best-selling author and spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra says: “You are a conscious agent or a soul that’s having a human experience.”

Reino Gevers – Author – Mentor – Speaker

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Filed under mental health, mental-health, Uncategorized

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