Man, unlike the animals, has never learned that the sole purpose of life is to enjoy it.
I want to relax and enjoy life. I want to dampen down my hypersensitivity, batten down my over reactions, soak up those never-ending tears, and learn to greet each day with the natural exuberance it, and I, deserve. However, I do understand it is going to take some doing, and that I very much need to find a starting point.
For many their ability to enjoy life is hampered by the power of the dreaded ‘what if’ syndrome: What if I fail? What if I get hurt? What if I lose those I love…what if, what if, what if? The bombarding of self with the fear of potential pain, or loss, is overwhelming, and difficult to defeat.
Some of us are predisposed to unhappiness, negativity clings to our DNA curves and replicates, passing its shadow on down through the generations, weaving its way into the fabric of the family crest, staining and fading its colour…if you let it.
Our genetic make up, coupled with learned behaviour, creates a daunting figure to challenge for change, but change we must, if happiness is our primary goal. I quickly realized I needed to find a mentor, a life coach who instinctively expects only the best from life. I desperately wanted to learn to see the sun, not the clouds, even before I pulled back the curtains on a new day.
I dwelled on this need, mulled it over carefully, and stumbled upon a thought that had apparently been there all along: What better teacher to lead me on to the path of well being than a dog?
But was I ready?
Our house, empty of pets, still echoed with the absence of our senior citizen cats, two stately gentlemen gone these past two years plus. The fact was I missed the pleasure of their unconditional love. Perhaps I was ready.
Dogs have been used as helpers to the handicapped for many years starting with the inception of the seeing eye dogs during World War I, and subsequently branching off to assist the hearing impaired, those suffering from epilepsy and autism, and those struggling with loneliness and depression. Research and detailed studies through the years has produced documents that illustrate the benefits, physically and mentally, of the teaming of man and dog.
Jane Weaver in her article for Pet Health on NBCNews.com indicated “that a few minutes of stroking our pet dog prompts a release of a number of “feel good” hormones in humans, including serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin.”
I realized I was on to something.
Once the idea planted its seed, it began to flourish and grow, steadily pushing and pulling at the worry that had lodged in my mind like a neglected garden. I began to participate in the late night haunting of Kijiji Toronto on the lookout for older dogs who were seeking new forever homes.
I decided names with old world character were waiting for me. I lined up in cyberspace for the opportunity to interview for Lou, Reggie, Wally and Bobby, to name only a few, all older dogs cueing for available homes for one reason or another. I stared at them long after my house fell silent, reading and re-reading their brief biographies. I expanded their respective pictures until the colours in their coats blurred, as I looked for a sign in their hooded eyes that would tell me they were indeed the friend I was looking for; and I oh so needed a friend.
I pinned my hopes on meeting Lou, his picture showed him to be a scruffy little terrier type, maximum weigh probably less than twenty pounds. He would have fit in perfectly tucked down around my feet, his nose just peeking out from under my writing desk. I think he would have been a good buddy for my soul, but it was simply not meant to be. Apparently, many were looking for older dogs to adopt, a blessing for those soon to be homeless canines, but I never got to meet any dogs from the Kijiji ads. I hope Lou found a good home.
As we know, some things in life happen for a reason. The day before my birthday this past January, we walked into the Clarington, Ontario animal shelter in Bowmanville, Ontario and met our puppy. At eight weeks old he did not at all match our set in stone criteria, for one, he was a puppy, but stone cracks and our rigid stance of only accepting mature, potty-trained dogs into our home crumbled when puppy twitched his honey coloured eyebrows in our direction.
Seriously!…puppies and kittens will do you in every single time! They could make a hardened criminal turn to mush immediately softening his craggy face as he kneels down to scoop up the bundle of fur at his feet. What an interesting way for a writer to change the reader’s perspective of a character! Just toss an animal into the mix, if only for a brief moment, to present a glimpse of a tender side to your narcissistically wounded antagonist. This technique causes the reader to sit back and think: hey, perhaps this guy isn’t so bad after all; maybe he still is, bad that is, but now your reader is sitting up straighter, and looking closer.
This method can work in reverse, take a character with an apparently pristine reputation, a regular Joe if you will, whom anyone would trust with his or her small child; the reader likes Joe, but doesn’t pay too much attention to him…yet. Joe spies a cat in his backyard rooting around in the very garden that he just spent four backbreaking hours working on. He explodes, and unceremoniously kicks the cat viciously in the ribs sending it scrambling through the surrounding bush. An unexpectedly cruel reaction, from a trusted character, can alter your readers previously set opinion, causing heightened interest and hastening them on to the next page.
In literature, animals of all shapes and sizes are used to illustrate human emotions, as a bridge from one world to another, or as a tool to shape our characters for the reader. These animals have filled our dreams since childhood, so why wouldn’t we place them strategically into our carefully worded literary worlds?
Imagination and animals have always walked arm in arm. As a young child at a sleep over, the sleek black panther was the animal I chose to be, as we collectively pranced around the basements of my youth. The beauty of this animal, with its stunning fluidity painted into each stride, would fascinate any chubby child of eight, just as the effortless strut of the leggy models on the fashion runway would bring forth sighs from the teenager that lurked only short years away.
Animals propel us forward, forcing us to strive for more, inspiring us to emulate their natural grace and confidence.
My puppy would be my muse. He was promptly adopted and christened Cooper Alexander Vance-Olsen, so much for character driven names, we were going for corporate hyphenated surname dazzle! And don’t get me wrong, the happy hormone serotonin did not show up right away…no sir!… as cute as poster-boy puppy was, the first month was “there’s a baby in the house” hell!
Early mornings found me huddled on the floor in my office, my face streaked with re-runs of Mad Men and Fashion TV, afraid to move for fear of waking the finally sleeping puppy. Trust me when I say, I was not a pretty sight!…but like everything else, time stepped in, puppy grew, and early mornings were my own once again.
Animals blend into people’s character, people morph into animals, and our myths and legends join hands.
Cooper Alexander will strengthen my story with the boundless enthusiasm with which he greats each day. And I truly believe him when he says: Isn’t it fabulous that we have another wonderful day to spend together?
Isn’t it just that and so much more.
Note: Please take a moment to check out www.canadasguidetodogs.com/dogjobs.htm