We hear the words ‘unconditional love’ quite often, but we seldom experience it, except in the kind of love we receive from dogs. Have you ever had a dog inquire about your level of education, or your place of employment? They have no interest in your political or religious affiliations, or what your sexual orientation is. It doesn’t concern them whether you’re black, white, brown, or any other color. They don’t care about any of those things, or a plethora of other external, inconsequential matters. Dogs go right to the heart of you. They are aware of the real you, the one you don’t show to the world.
I have watched over the years as dogs have steadily risen in the family hierarchy. In my childhood, many dogs slept outside the main house, confined in their own mini-home, sometimes with just the ground for mattress. With the past century’s great migration to the cities, outside sleeping became obsolete. And so, People’s Companion found his way to the floor next to his pal’s bed; an especially tempting spot if there was a bit of a throw rug on it, but appealing even if not.
My brother and I, who longed for greater comfort and companionship from our four-legged friends, patted the bed with a hand to signify it was okay to jump on up. Mission accomplished, and the unwritten rule – Dog Allowed at Foot of Bed – came into prominence. That bed arrangement lasted a good 30 years and then, while on their evolutionary trajectory, dogs discovered the pillow; a miraculous invention allowing the head to be elevated while asleep. Keep in mind that this discovery was as significant for them as fire or the wheel was for us. You can almost sense them sighing ‘eureka’ when they rest their weary heads on that cloud of softness.
Dogs have certainly evolved since my childhood years. Most of them don’t bite the mailman or fight with cats, generally speaking. They were obviously more wolf back then, and less domesticated, four-legged, funny-eared members of the human family. And now, dogs are demonstrating that, just like humans, even they can thrive on a vegan diet.
There are dogs who have learned to lift a person’s hand with their nose, to get us to use it for petting them. How about the great acting ability they display at the dinner table, when they look as though they haven’t had a morsel in at least a week? That ‘anything… just a crumb’ look would melt the heart and willpower of any feeling, compassionate person.
Yes, dogs provide a feeling of home to those of us who love them, who can appreciate their great generosity of spirit; those of us who feel it our duty to protect them, just as they feel their duty is to protect us.
Over the years, I have been honored to share my home and my heart with dogs of all shapes and sizes, and of many different temperaments and personalities. Beautiful was a golden retriever who had lived in a family home for three years and given birth to a litter of puppies amongst that very family, but when she found her way into my life, it was the last call before they took her to the pound. Cozy, who likes nothing more than to get as close as possible to anyone within cuddling distance, had lived her early years chained up on a cattle farm, never allowed inside the house. When the farm closed down, the folks she lived with had decided they would probably end up shooting her. And of course, there’s Valiant. Valiant, the gentlest dog in the entire world, was being used to hunt pigs.
Some dogs are mistreated to the point of cruelty and yet continue to trust that things will get better. In the United States alone, 5500 dogs are killed in shelters every single day, some of whom have been immortalized in the work of one determined artist, heroic in his efforts to bring attention to the plight of homeless animals everywhere. His portraits brought tears to my eyes when I discovered them.
In my life, dogs have not only been some of my best friends, but some of my greatest teachers. There is no doubt in my mind that my feeling for dogs was a significant factor in my vegan epiphany, since it was not a far leap from the eyes of my best friends to the eyes of the first cow I ever saw crying tears of sorrow.
And so you see, I owe these four-leggeds a great debt of gratitude. And though it is a debt I will never be able to adequately repay, I realize every time a furry little face looks up at me asking for love, that I will never stop trying.