This I Believe

Susan - Grand Isle, VT, Vermont
Entered on May 19, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
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“This I Believe”

I believe dogs give me the ability to cut to the essence of what matters most in life. Whenever I have struggled with an important issue in my life, one of my dogs has been there to help me find my way.

When I was six months old, my mother discovered a lump in her breast. For the next three and a half years, she fought a losing battle with cancer. When I was five years old, my father remarried. Barbara had three children of her own and for whatever reason she was unable to find or believe there was anything special about me. I grew up feeling unvalued and alone. When I was eight, Barbara was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, and for the next six years, she also fought a losing battle with cancer. Although she was never truly able to love me, she gave me a precious parting gift: she told my father she thought it would be a wonderful idea to get me a dog.

“Thorne,” a black Labrador retriever, arrived just before I finished the ninth grade, about two months after Barbara’s death. A few months later, my best friend Jessie also got her first dog, and we took 4-H dog training classes together. While Thorne was good in class, Jessie’s dog Nathan was outstanding in everyway. I worked Thorne for hours each day trying to make her be just as good as Nathan. I did not realize it at first, but I was just as dissatisfied with Thorne in my own way as Barbara had been with me. Yet every day Thorne tried her hardest to please me and she loved me unconditionally despite my behavior.

I do not know why we are sometimes unable to see what is important. For me, there was no particular moment in time when I realized that my dissatisfaction with Thorne and with life in general was a kind of cancer of its own. As I grew up though, Thorne taught me what was important through simple actions. She taught me when she stopped chasing a squirrel into the street, and I called her with desperation in my voice. She taught me every night when she slept with her chin over my ankles at the foot of my bed. She taught me every day when I came home from school, and she made me feel like I was the most valuable person on the earth. She taught me when she licked away my tears with her velvety tongue, even when my tears were selfish.

Thirty years later, there have been many dogs since Thorne, all of whom have shown me what matters most in life by being faithful and non-judgmental. I believe dogs have the ability to teach us how to be satisfied and to appreciate what we have by focusing on what is good, rather than despairing over what is bad. Dogs have taught me to celebrate what I have with exuberance, dignity and love.