What I’ve Learned From a Dog

To start…Cid is still very much alive.  There was some alarm back there a month ago about his condition, but he is quite with us, thank you.  That said:

Actually Cid “belongs” to the woman I live with because she adopted him from the Monmouth County Shelter, but after over the 7 years I’ve been here, he and I have sort of bonded.  Cid’s picture is in several places on this website, but anyone I love that much deserves as many pictures of him as I can find.  So have a gander…or a dog.
The beginning of Cid’s relationship with me and mine with him came through an act of near-violence.  What “near”?  I hit him with his own leash.

Marie had gone out of town to visit her son, who was in his freshman year in an upstate New York school.  It was me and the dog. I had an appointment an hour later, and I was of course so important that I just had to get Cid out immediately after I got home from work. So while he was laying on the bed I hooked him up to his leash. He was supposed to get the idea at once and obey on command.

Instead, he would not move.  Either he wanted “mommy,” the female human to whom he was and remains passionately loyal, and/or he simply was not in the mood to be pushed. Dogs, I learned, do not do things for you unless you set up the relationship beforehand. Cid, in a weird way, wanted to be seduced, and here I was grabbing at him.  On that day in 2004, Cid and I didn’t really have a relationship to build on. I just figured “He dog, me human,” so I tugged on the leash. His collar came off.  I tried slipping it back over his head.

Which is when he bit me.

Now, with a dog, there is bite and there is bite. “Bite” without italics means he did not break the skin: to borrow Suzanne Clothier’s language, he was purely communicating with me and telling me to back off, that he wasn’t about to be ordered around. But Cid is part Rottweiler and German Shepherd, not to mention some likely pit bull hiding in the genetic code. Which is to say his jaws are like a bench vise and when he bit me it hurt a lot.

That’s when I saw stars, grabbed his leash, and whacked him twice across the shoulders. Yes, his shoulders are the strongest and most well-muscled part of his body. It probably (I hope) did not hurt him a great deal. But it shocked him. He just stared at me.  He did not seem angry, just very “thrown.”

And then I did Dumb Thing No. 2. I stared him down. I met his glance and whispered very slowly and distinctly–thank God I did not yell–“Don’t you ever bite me again.”

And then it hit me: who just lost here?  Who won?  Nobody won but for certain I lost.  Maybe Cid did too, for all I knew. I renounced any self-control I had just so I could order around a dog. I let go of myself because a dog didn’t think I was as important as I thought I was important.

You better believe I was upset, not at Cid but at myself. So I did what could have been Dumb Thing No. 3. 

I knelt down and put my arms around Cid’s neck. “I’m sorry, Cid” I said softly. “I love you.” I was and I did and I do. And the big guy seemed okay with that. He has a very large vocabulary of words he understands and “I love you” is something he knows because he’s heard it before.

Now, here is the part to remember: this could have been Dumb Thing No. 3 because I was putting myself at throat level. Instead, there was a miracle. Cid could have torn my throat out but he chose to forgive me and let us get on with our lives. And for that alone I am forever grateful to him.

Then, after a decent interval, we went for a walk. 

I am still not his Number One human–Marie always will be–but Cid and I get along very nicely now.  I recently spent five days as the resident pet-sitter for him and the cats while Marie was on a trip, and everyone did fine.

Cid has taught me not only about forgiveness but also about living in the moment, being present to the present. One weekend summer morning, really early, I had him out for his morning clean-out. He pranced along the street and sniffed where every dog in town had been. He sniffed human scents. He grazed on some grass. I could sense his voice through his body language: “There is no yesterday.  I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I’m here now, I’m taking a walk with you, you lucky human, I’m sniffing dog piss, and life rocks!”

Did you ever wonder why Dog in English is God spelled backwards?  Cid is way close to the Being who made all of us and remakes us each day to come closer to his image and to what is best in ourselves.  Cid’s just a bit more advanced that a lot of us biped types.

He’s one of the loveliest creatures ever to grace my life.


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