I believe in the power of dogs. My relationship with my four Labrador retrievers has enhanced and revitalized my life. Through them I have reawakened a dormant link to nature and all living things. A casual hiker and biker before dogs, I have become intimate with the wilderness areas in South Dakota, in the Black Hills and Badlands —because of the dogs. Their unconditional acceptance of me has given me a greater appreciation of the all things spiritual.
In Grace, the youngest and my first dog since childhood, I observe an embodiment of power and speed. She weighs sixty-five pounds and bounds for the day-glo orange retrieving dummies as if nothing else in the world matters. As she dashes, brakes and scoops up the dummy, her shoulder and hip muscles ripple, moving in waves under her tawny, tight coat. She has more energy than the sun.
Luther, my second dog, older and thicker, the canine Buddha, came from the chaos of the local Humane Society. In the maelstrom of sound and smell, barks creating an unholy din, Luther sat. He seemed to be waiting for me. Never have I felt such altruistic satisfaction as I did the day I “saved” Luther from an uncertain fate.
Not six months later, I adopted Missy, my third yellow Lab. More white than tan, Missy barks and grumbles more than the other three combined. Her fur is as soft as a rabbit’s. Maybe ten now, she suffers from hip dysplasia. Her hips cannot hold up her body. The muscles in her legs and her will to run keep her going. She lopes and barks and swims like a puppy. She is canine courage.
Mac, the lone black Lab in the crew, has dodged death twice. His former owner asked two vets to put him down before he came to me. Named after the anti-hero in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Mac is the death-defying miracle dog. I cannot get mad at Mac, at least not for long.
I love my dogs, and at times when I am not feeding them, they think kindly of me. It has been said that to have a better dog you have to be a better person. My Labs—Grace, Luther, Missy and Mac—have made me better. Have the dogs replaced people in my life? I don’t think so. The dogs force me to be more patient and tolerant. Because of them, I have a more generous spirit for everyone and everything. I like to think the dogs and I have enriched each other’s lives. And every day they make me laugh.
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