Dog Zen: The Teachings of Bodhisattva

Today, I’m cross-posting an essay by a guest blogger, Justin Roth.  The post also appears in the outdoor blog, The Weekender.  It’s a little longer than our typical Daily Toki post, but I wanted to produce it here in full because it so perfectly captures the funny and sometimes confusing reality of living with dogs, and the lessons that they teach us.

I was raised in the absence of dogs. My dad was a germophobe with little interest in something so messy as cohabiting with another species. Accordingly, my roster of boyhood pets was limited to smaller creatures that were, well, harder to relate to. Tropical freshwater fish, for example (several of these managed to jump out of the tank in the night and fatally dry out on the carpet), or a small, striped snake that bit me whenever I picked it up. My parents gave the family cat, Pepe, after the cartoon skunk, to “a friend with a farm,” after less than a year. At the time, this seemed like a really nice step up for the cat, but in retrospect it might actually have been a euphemism for sending Pepe to be put down. I can’t really say and I have no intention of digging more deeply into the matter.

So, with no dogs in my past, it never really occurred to me to seek out a canine companion later in life. I didn’t see the point. It seemed like it would require a lot of work and time to take care of a dog. I passed through college, grad school, and several jobs blissfully dogless, until one day, a few months ago, my girlfriend started pushing for a pooch. At first I rejected the idea, but it didn’t take much prodding for me to become cautiously intrigued. Pro-dog messaging had long been programmed into me through books and movies, which romanticized dog ownership. As a male, a dog is supposed to be my best friend, or something. A lot of people see dogs as manifestations of the simple animal desires we all have for food, sex, and muddy romps in the woods — they are to be both reminders of our primal nature and non-judgmental companions. In some cases, dogs may even rescue us from burning buildings. Though I took this all with a grain of salt, I finally came to believe that a dog would be a nice addition to our small family, an adventure even. And so, after much deliberation, my girlfriend and I settled on a few breeds that we liked. At the pound, we found one that seemed to fit the bill: a blue heeler named Brody.

Heelers, blue and red, are cattle dogs, bred to endure the austere conditions of Australian farm country, or so I have read. As such, they’re reputed to be high-energy and slow to tire, possessing of herding instincts, and highly intelligent. In the pound, Brody was shy and quiet. His mostly-white coat was flecked with darker hairs, giving a mottled, grayish-blue appearance. His face was an appealing mix of brown, white, and black, with a pronounced muzzle and triangular, bat-like ears that double the height of his head. His streaked coat faded into brown-and-white speckling towards his paws. His teeth were gleaming white. A hair overweight, perhaps, but on the whole healthy. We could only know so much about him, given the circumstances, but he seemed suitable, and the idea of giving a good home to one of these poor creatures locked up in rows under buzzing fluorescent lights was appealing. We took him.

While filling out the adoption papers, we decided to change Brody’s name to Bodhi, after Patrick Swayze’s character in Point Break. Also, Bodhi is short for Bodhisattva, a buddha-like being who puts his or her own enlightenment on hold in order to usher in all other sentient being to nirvana. These names, while amusing, had little to do with Bodhi’s personality per se. Mainly, they were wishful thinking — he would be a radical, wise, and spiritual being, we hoped.

It’s been said that no one gets the dog they want; they get the dog they need. This pronouncement is just vague enough to apply to nearly any situation. Still, at times it has seemed apt for us. My girlfriend, for example, was hoping for a something affectionate, cute, and unobtrusive; part pet, part friend, and part stuffed animal — an amicable Pokemon, if you will. Of course, our blue heeler, less than a year old when we adopted him, bore little resemblance to this über-pup. Instead, his initial shyness gave way to intense energy, a voracious appetite, and a slew of strange, funny, and sometimes disturbing quirks. For one, he was prone to nipping and even outright biting when sleepy or possessive. He would sometimes pee when overly excited or scared, and had an insatiable hunger for the mulch pieces in our back yard. He was clumsy, often jumping up to catch a ball or greet one of us at the door and rotating in mid air so that he landed on his back (which would so scare him that he’d flatten his ears and maybe even pee). And in true heeler fashion, Bodhi to this day stays at our heels at all times, making him a tripping hazard. All of which might lead one to ask how this made Bodhi the dog we needed…

In truth, Bodhi’s constant need for attention, walks, and discipline required us to be more disciplined with our own time. He also served as a daily reminder that we are not the center of any universe, even our own. He has been a humbling dose of the messy, confusing, wonderful, and frustrating reality that we as humans often strive to ignore. More philosophically, he is a living example of a complex, millennia-old relationship between two species that seems at once natural and unnatural; sometimes I think he genuinely cares for us, while at other times I feel like he’s just hanging around for the free vittles, oblivious to all the emotional mishmash we humans hump around with us wherever we go. He has been a living lesson and a new member of the family, not to mention a tiny, partial preview of what adding another human member to our family might entail. He has been a valuable teacher simply by sharing our home. He’s ours now, and we are his. Maybe it’s all part of his plan — to usher us unto enlightenment, letting us believe it was our idea all along.

For more photos, check out the post on The Weekender.

This entry was posted in Guest Blogger, Stories, The Weekender Blog and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dog Zen: The Teachings of Bodhisattva

  1. Pingback: Friends Furrever | The Daily Toki

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