I adopted an incredible dog, Lucy, 5 years ago. She had a difficult past as she was used for breeding prior to being put up for adoption. I can’t say her transition from farm to city life was the easiest. In fact, she was so timid and shy, she didn’t bark for the first two years of her life. She did, however, become instantly comfortable with our couch. The rest of her transition was a slower process that required a lot of patience.
Helping Lucy transition from her past lifestyle to her life now has been an incredible gift with many rewards. As I reflect on the spirit of Valentine’s Day and how we can work on relationships with other people, I thought I’d share some of the many life lessons she’s taught me about love and life.
Lucy has taught me:
…even though she can’t speak “human”, she can communicate her needs through body language and gestures. Over time, I’ve learned to key in to certain things she does. I know that when she wants breakfast in the morning, she likes to put her paws up on the side of the bed and lick my arm until I get up. I’ve learned what certain tail wags mean and that when she tilts her head to one side or the other, she’s listening intently. I also know that when she yelps, she wants to play. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from cluing into these things is the importance of paying attention to the body language and gestures of the humans in my life. Much of how we communicate is not with the spoken word; it’s with our actions. If we pay attention to the stance or facial expressions of those around us, we actually learn quite a bit and can use that to our advantage when interacting with those individuals.
…she likes to be “spoiled” with belly rubs and snuggles. When Lucy wants her belly rubbed, she wiggles her way on the floor over to where I am and ever so innocently rolls over onto her side. She patiently waits and rewards me when I rub her belly by licking my hand. If I stop before she’s ready for me to, she taps my hand with her paw, signaling that she’d like me to continue. Just like humans, she has her preferences for things she likes. She communicates that with me through gestures, which is her communication style. As humans, we also have to pay attention to our preferences and the preferences of the people that are in our lives. This doesn’t mean we need to spoil others or ourselves, but we do need to pay attention to specific needs.
…she likes to nap. A lot. One of Lucy’s greatest pleasures seems to be napping on the couch in our basement on top of a Chicago Bears blanket. Sometimes, she barks in her dreams and I often wonder what she’s dreaming about. When I observe her dreaming, it reminds me that I too can allow my mind to wander from time to time. It’s important to get outside ourselves and give ourselves permission to consider the other possibilities that await us. She also reminds me that it’s important to slow down every once in a while and recharge myself for the days ahead.
…to enjoy the simple things in life. Lucy’s life is relatively simplistic: she sleeps, eats, goes outside on walks, and generally enjoys being in the presence of others. She doesn’t require many toys to make her happy and seems to be happiest when she’s with the people and things she knows best. In life, it can be easy to get caught up in pop culture and materialism, the stress of work/life balance, and any other day-to-day tasks. When we take a step back and look outside our lives, we might find that we too can enjoy the simple things.
…to take risks every once in a while. Lucy gets into determined stance when she is on what we affectionately call “squirrel patrol”. Lucy has some hunting instincts in her bloodline and when given the chance, she will go to all lengths to chase squirrels. Thankfully, she has not succeeded in this task but she does find great pleasure in the thrill of the chase, as we like to say. Lucy knows that with great risks comes great rewards and she exemplifies this. These risks can be big or small and when it involves other people, sometimes we have to step outside our comfort zone in hopes that we will improve our own greatness.
…unconditional love goes a long way. Lucy is great at giving unconditional love. Regardless of the kind of day I’m having or how late she’s stayed up at night with me getting work done, she always greets me the same way and is there through laughter, sadness, and everything in between. When we learn to be lenient about certain things and maintain an open mind, we are able to accept and give more of ourselves with less effort.
…we need physical touch. When Lucy and I lay on the couch together and she puts her head on my leg, it is one of the most comforting feelings in the world. Just knowing that she’s there promotes a sense of calmness and acceptance that is hard to replicate. She’s confirmed my belief that physical touch connects people together and helps foster a sense of trust. Think about the last time you needed a hug and someone gave you one.
Here’s to my furry Valentine – thank you for the lessons on life and love now and forever.