I love Kevin Hearne. The Iron Druid is one of my favorite urban fantasy series. Hearne’s humor always makes me chuckle – I sometimes laugh out loud. I also appreciate his insight and advice; he’s one of my best literary therapists. It’s no wonder, then, that I eagerly awaited the release of his novella, The Purloined Poodle, despite the fact that it’s written in the first “person” from the perspective of the Iron Druid’s Irish Wolfhound, Oberon. [And no, it hasn’t escaped me that I’m reading a lot of books whose main characters are named Oberon. Truth is definitely stranger than fiction]. I’m not normally the kind of person who reads books written by dogs. Or by humans channeling dogs. But I love Oberon, and the first of his Meaty Mysteries did it for me in a big way. Not just because I was entertained and amused. But also because reading about a dog’s life reminded me to think about what’s important in my own.
One of the most salient lessons that dogs can teach us is to live in the present moment. This is much, much easier said than done, and apparently, it’s much easier for dogs than for people. This makes sense for several reasons that I’m almost afraid to talk about lest dog-loving fanatics (including myself) will give me grief. I mean no offense to the lovers of our four-legged friends. First off, there is the issue of brain size; if you have limited headspace, it’s probably easier to stay focused on what’s in front of you (this could explain the serenity of fools—but I digress). Second is the issue of free will—which, in my humble opinion—is a prerequisite to possessing a soul. And I’m not sure that dogs have free will, so they don’t have any issues with making the right choice… like staying in the present moment. If it were easy, everyone would do it. But dogs don’t have to worry about their souls ‘cause they are all going to Heaven, and doing the right thing by living in the moment doesn’t need to be difficult for them.
We can learn many things from our canine friends: pay attention to what’s in front of us; hear and don’t just listen; see don’t just look. When a dog smells something, he’s really taking it into his body—for better and for worse. He’s fully present to his sense of smell. And when we touch our dogs or they touch us, if we’re paying attention and not absently patting their heads, the communion is a wondrous thing. Because that’s what presence does. It allows us to live fully. In reality, we only have the now. Our minds have not yet cottoned to this fact of life, however. Dogs do a much better job.
Another advantage that Oberon highlighted is that dogs enjoy the simple pleasures of life, and therefore seem much happier than we are. They love to run through the grass, and snooze in the sun and cuddle with a loved one. They enjoy their meals, and they take pleasure in pleasing their friends. Humans are capable of the same pleasures, no matter our circumstances. These pleasures cost nothing, and even if they are few and far between, instead of ruining the experience by thinking about its rarity, a dog would revel in the pleasure that was offered. I could learn something from this doggie ability to enjoy happiness where I find it.
Dogs seem to be fully integrated in their minds and bodies, something I didn’t even know to desire and work toward for most of my half-century of living. There is no divide for them, which is likely another key to their unique capacity for living in the moment. Dogs live their lives as whole beings. Most of us have forgotten that we came into this world whole and somewhere underneath all the shit, we still are. Most dogs have a lot less shit piled on top of their basic integrity.
Another lesson our dogs can teach us is about values. Doggie values are the best: loyalty, affection, protection, honesty, generosity, the ability to trust, and good, old-fashioned pack values where families love and support each other through thick and thin. It doesn’t really get much better than that. Perhaps The Donald could get a dog and learn a thing or two. On second thought, I wouldn’t do that to the dog.
Dogs also trust their instincts, something else I’d like to learn to do better. Dogs seem to have excellent access to their instinctive knowledge and they don’t second-guess themselves. All of us know immediately if a dog thinks we are good people. And we’ve all seen those who dogs don’t like. I don’t know about you, but I would be wary of anyone to whom my dogs took an instant dislike. Sketchy, for sure. So not only can we learn something about how to value our own instincts, but dogs are generous in sharing their instincts with us too. Beautiful animals.
So, once again I’m indebted to Kevin Hearne for writing an excellent story. And I offer many thanks to Oberon and his four-legged fellows for making me a better biped.