I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Rachel Regenold's reflection on the way creatures can become our soul friends and spiritual guides:
A Monk with Four Paws
Amos is a monk in the world in disguise with a shaggy coat, four paws, and an irrepressible sweetness. In the nearly seven years since he rescued me – though officially I rescued him by adopting him from a golden retriever rescue – he has taught me the most important lessons of my life. Really, they have been lessons that only the gentlest of guides could teach by modeling them over and over and over again. Which is why he had to be a dog to teach me, because I never would have listened to a human being.
Keep an open heart. Though not immediately noticeable, Amos’s nose and lip are scarred. I imagine the injuries might have been caused by a dog fight because he spent the first four and a half years of his life in a shed and dog run as a backyard breeder’s stud dog. He was always kenneled with a female to inspire coupling. Perhaps a poor match was made. Nonetheless, Amos loves other dogs and assumes that they are all his friends. Somehow he never learned the proper social graces of dogdom though and irritates some newly-met dogs by sniffing just a little too long. They growl or snap and Amos swings his big head away and moves on. He doesn’t hold a grudge. The next day he’ll try to say hello to the very same dog again unless I encourage him to keep moving.
Have faith. Amos was scared of everything when his foster family delivered him to me. Every noise startled him. He parked himself in the middle of my living room floor for the first two days until my neighbor rolled his garbage bin down the driveway for Monday morning pick-up. Amos lumbered behind my love seat and spent the next two weeks there except when I made him come out.
I was pretty certain that I had made a horrible mistake in adopting him when I called a dog trainer named Tonja for help. I explained Amos’s origins and behaviors and that I thought he needed some training one-on-one in my home. “No,” Tonja replied firmly, “this dog needs to be socialized. He needs to be in class around other dogs and people.” She softened a bit, adding, “No matter what this dog has been through, once he learns that you won’t lead him into harm, he’ll do anything you ask.”
This seemed unlikely to me at our first obedience class as Amos sprawled on the cool floor, unwilling to get up, interact, or accept treats. The only time he did get up was to pee behind my chair in front of the whole class, disappointing my hope that at the first class he would surprise me with a miraculous change in behavior.
Instead, Amos waited till the second class. We did our homework that first week and when we arrived at the next class, Amos showed off his new-found ability to sit for a treat when he wasn’t trying to say hello to the other dogs or accepting treats from our trainer’s husband. “He’s like a completely different dog!” Tonja remarked. He was. It took many months for him to become completely comfortable in my home and a whole year to learn how to walk on a leash. But his faith that I would always love him and never lead him into harm made it all possible.
Enjoy the little things. Poet Mary Oliver says, “It must be a great disappointment to God if we are not dazzled at least ten times a day.” I suspect that dogs never disappoint God. Amos is delighted by meal time, going outside, seeing me come home, and chasing squirrels. Every single day.
Some puppy-mill dogs come to love the outdoors after spending their lives in a cage, but Amos decided from early on that indoor life was the best. He hurriedly went potty and on walks so he could go back indoors. This past summer he started sitting in the yard when we went outside. At first I thought he must be giving his arthritic back legs a rest. Then I noticed that as he sat Amos would look around and raise his muzzle to sniff the air as his silky ears fluttered in the wind. He was savoring his time outdoors, I realized. Not a lot of time. Just a moment or two, then he’d meander a little ways and raise his leg to pee before going back inside. And every once in a while he laid down in the yard as I petted him, sometimes even allowing himself to wriggle around on his back. Watching Amos savor the outdoors for the first time in his 11 years is one of my favorite little things.
I dread the day when Amos will teach me the hardest lesson of all – letting go. Then I will have to learn how to live without him.
Rachel and Amos Regenold live in Iowa. In her spare time Rachel enjoys blogging about finding meaning in everyday life at www.iowaseeker.com and studying to be a yoga teacher. Amos devotes all of his time to helping Rachel be a better human being.