A culture’s capacity to act graciously, tenderly, and lovingly towards animals is the best indicator of that culture’s greatness and nobility. This is something we should all remember in our daily lives, for if we cannot treat the least of creatures with care and tolerance, is there any hope for the manner in which we treat each other? It shows the basic humanity of a person when they are gentle and kind to animals. And loving animals is a two-way street. The more you give, the more you get. The benefits of human-animal relationships are infinitely great.
I love all creatures, and I’ve had a dog in my home for almost my entire life. My family’s Pekingese-Poodle mix, Toto, was part of the family before I was. This is where I began to learn how to (and how NOT to) treat animals. Toto resented my existence as the new cuddly baby in the house, but I tried to love her as only a toddler knows how: I dressed her in doll clothes, put her in a crib, poked at her, squeezed her, woke her up, and chased her relentlessly. It’s a wonder that Toto never sent me packing down the Yellow Brick Road. The love for animals was already seeded in my heart, though, and as I grew up it broke my heart that Toto didn’t like or trust me. I didn’t blame her, but I began to want my own dog. A “fur”-ever friend, if you will. A trusty side-kick just like in the movies.
Taking me to an animal shelter when I was about 9 years old was a bad idea on my mom’s part. I was now old enough to understand how to care for a dog, and I found Freddy, an adult Hungarian Vizsla who’s squinting eyes were failing. He was older, not housebroken, and the greatest dog I’d ever seen. I thought I would DIE if we didn’t get to take him home. Alas, Mom vetoed that idea and I went home with a mission: get a Vizsla puppy and name him Fred. After about two years and three letters to Santa Claus, I discovered a giant, quivering box in our living room on Christmas morning 1996. I opened the lid and a red fireball of a puppy, complete with a green bow around his neck, leaped out and began licking my face. I was in love. It was my Fred.
Toto, however, was NOT amused. She looked at Fred with disdain, almost as if she held his status as MY dog against him. It didn’t help that Fred was rambunctiously charging at her, forcing her to keep moving about the house to avoid his attempts to play. Toto was old, ornery, and wanted nothing to do with Fred. We decided that it was best for everyone if she moved in with my Granny and Grandpa for her golden years. My grandparents loved and spoiled Toto to no end, and she lived a great life well into her late teens.
Fred and I were best friends, and he was like a son to my dad. Every day my dad, a lumberjack, would take Fred to work in the woods. He would run all day, come home, and still want to play with me. I taught him all sorts of tricks, including how to pull me in a sled or on my rollerblades. Fred was a very lucky dog; we gave him everything a dog needed and took care of him as if he were my human sibling. I learned a lot about unconditional love from Fred, who never held a grudge and always made me feel special by how excitedly he greeted me when I came home. He made me a better person. Fred was unstoppable, until he got cancer at age 10. I took the news extremely hard, as did my dad and mom. He didn’t live very long after the diagnosis, but he passed away peacefully at home. I’m thankful we weren’t forced to make the decision to euthanize Fred. He went on his own terms. For months afterwards I’d expect to hear the tags on his collar jingling, or see him laying on his bed in the living room, or find him wagging his tail for me when I’d come in the door. His absence was agonizing. A dog makes a house a home, and Fred left a huge void in our family. We had much love to give, and we knew we needed another Vizsla.
Instead of going to a breeder, we searched the internet for a Vizsla-specific rescue organization. We found a female, almost 2 years old, named Dakota. She lived in lower Michigan, not very far from where my sister was living at the time. Dakota was beautiful and vibrant, but she was wearing a shock collar in her photo and looked a bit sad. It seemed like our duty to rescue her, so we contacted the family who was fostering her and learned how to apply to adopt her. Although other people had applied, our experience with having already owned a Vizsla put us at the top of the applicant list. I also believe the rescue organization’s volunteers knew we were a loving, compassionate family that would care for Dakota better than any of the other applicants. We became ecstatic when we were notified that Dakota could become ours. We decided to change her name to Lily, and when we met her, we knew it was the perfect choice. A new, sweet name for our new, sweet dog.
Lily was anxious and a bit shy at first as we brought her home to my sister’s apartment. Over the next few days, she warmed up to us considerably. We were certified dog people, now, and Lily seemed able to sense this. She started to trust us, and she even behaved well on the 8-hour drive back up North to our house in Upper Michigan. The only anomaly was that she acted afraid of my dad when she met him for the first time. It seemed that he reminded her of someone she disliked. Thankfully, Lily was able to overcome this first impression and eventually she loved my dad just as much as she loved my mom and me. We became one big happy, whole family again.
Over the years that we’ve enjoyed with Lily, she’s been loved and spoiled like a queen. She has a plethora of toys, her own Serta mattress dog bed, she receives treats and quality food/water daily, she was taken on daily walks until her hips began to cause her too much discomfort, and she is cuddled with every night. We have always celebrated Lily’s birthday, made sure she was groomed and clean, let her live without a collar, and brought her to the vet for her yearly vaccines. We did this all out of pure love, and the love we received in return has been priceless. Lily makes us happier, stronger, better human beings because she has taught us many things about life.
So I find it very unfair that Lily is now suffering from heart failure at 12 years old. Her life won’t be nearly long enough, in our opinion. We were reminded of the short life expectancy of larger dogs when we brought Lily to her veterinarian. She had been acting strange, and we noticed slight changes in her behavior that only a loving, attentive family can. She seemed restless at night, was eating less, had a mildly distended belly, and didn’t seem to want to cuddle very much. Sometimes Lily just stared into space with a blank look on her face. This was not the dog we had known for the past 10 years. We knew something was quite wrong, but the vet confirmed it. Lily will probably not live for another year. Maybe only a few more months; it’s difficult to pinpoint how long any creature will live once diagnosed with a tragic illness.
Humans should, at all times, appreciate animals. Every creature has something to teach us. With our dogs, it was how to be better, more loving, compassionate humans. Our dogs found traits in us that they deemed worthy, and this made us love ourselves. We found characteristics in our dogs that we aspired to have, and this renewed us and made us better versions of ourselves. So, in this way, Mahatma Gandhi was absolutely correct when he said “the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” If we could enact this concept, the world might become the kind of place where compassion thrives.