Lessons From My Dogs

They lie at my feet as I eat a miso-mayo sandwich. Sasha wears a mournful mask of longing that tells me she’s never thought it fair that I can walk to the fridge and select whatever I choose to eat, while her food is doled out throughout the day like rationing. I wish she’d thank me for keeping her svelte, but her worried look tells me she does not, almost causing me guilt.

Chance, my dog philosopher, meditates upon the plate with closed eyes. She sits tall, her back straight, the envy of any meditater. All but the fine line of drool falling from her mouth speaks of a calm, Buddha-like presence. Flash races past, pursuing a sunbeam; his world too the envy of many spiritual gurus—such attention to the present moment.

Patiently they wait for me to finish eating, at which time they know I’ll give them the plate to lick or a treat to eat. Yet their patience extends beyond waiting for me to finish lunch, for they are also patient with my work schedule when it keeps me long past the hour of their expected dinner. They are patient when I tell them we’re going walking only to turn back for a ringing phone and thirty minutes of unintended conversation. They are patient with my quirks and human limitations, patient with my mistakes and forgetfulness, patient when I don’t understand their thoughts and desires yet expect them to understand my own. How often have I wished my friends and colleagues could have the patience and intuitive understanding of my dogs?

But let me confess, lest it seem I live with maharishi dogs, there are times when their patience runs low. Chance lets out an aarrff when I’m too slow to fill their bowls. Flash roots my hand with his nose if I stop rubbing his slender head and Sasha, less subtle, gentle scrapes my face with her toenails.
But, for the most part, the patience I witness in these dogs and all animals extends beyond our household and the visible and tangible. They have each looked at me with eyes full of understanding in the face of difficult situations, trusting and accepting in something I glimpse only rarely and adopting attitudes that seem to transcend their earthly existence. Just as nature is patient—the grass does not hurry to grow, the trees don’t rush about—so too do these dogs embody a quality found in all of nature, a peaceful, one-with-life acceptance of what is. And so when I walk mindfully with them beneath a timeless November sky, I’m aware of the light, incandescent as it shimmers through orange leaves, surrounding us, embracing us. When they stop to sniff, I stand quietly and am rewarded by a cascade of golden leaves that lifts and whirls across the field. And as the wind tugs and teases, dancing through the boughs, and blowing playful leaves along their way, I smile and thank the dogs for helping me to feel this moment. I thank them for extending their virtues onto me.

Kay Pfaltz is a writer and animal activist. Visit her website at to order copies of Lauren’s Story: An American Dog in Paris, the true story of a sick and abandoned beagle whose zest for life triumphs throughout adversary. Kay donates 100% of profits to animal organizations as listed on her website.