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Sam Cook column: Becoming dog is a work in progress

Sam Cook

The yellow dog and I were off on a two-hour jaunt in the woods the other day. She would lark ahead, following the trail and her nose. At intervals, determined entirely on her own, she would come trotting back to check in.

I like that in a dog. It tells me she's thinking about me, that she isn't just out on a solo romp.

I like that in people, too. I have several friends who, unprompted, will call or send a message or drop by just to see what's up. I try to do the same with them. It feels good on both ends.

I didn't learn that from the yellow dog, but her checking back with me on the trail seems to affirm the practice.

All of which got me to thinking that I should keep striving to be more like my dog in other ways. Such as:

She takes pleasure in simple things. Like lying in a sunny spot on a cool morning. Or tossing a pine cone and pouncing on it. Or leaping into Lake Superior to chase down a training dummy I've thrown. Sometimes, the simple and free options in life offer much of what we need to know of happiness.

She is inquisitive. She is constantly following her nose, snuffling up scent, figuring out what's been happening. Did a squirrel pass by here? A grouse? A pheasant? A whitetail? She wants to know. My nose will not unlock such secrets, but I can read and listen and have discourse and ask questions. Being inquisitive leads to learning. And learning always makes us feel good.

She is fearless. She throws herself into unknown situations with complete commitment. She trusts that I wouldn't ask her to do something unwise, and she plunges in without hesitation. Her default attitude: Hey, either it works out or it doesn't. Only one way to find out. I have much to learn from the yellow dog in this arena.

She's a good listener. Sometimes, we all just need someone to give us an ear, to listen without offering advice or trying to solve our problems. The yellow dog has mastered this. Yeah, I know: She can't talk. That helps. But if you need someone to talk to, she meets one important criteria: She's available. She has time. She doesn't interrupt. What more could a human ask?

She shows affection. She holds nothing back. She nuzzles. She licks. She snuggles. There is no doubt about it: She loves me. She wants me to know it. I can see it in her eyes. I can see it in the quiver of her tail. I've always thought humans should have tails, so those we love or appreciate would know it the moment we entered the room.

She seeks nurturing. When she needs love, she knows how to find it. She sidles up and leans in. She looks up from her rug with plaintive eyes. She hops into my lap. "Here I am," she says. "I could use a good ear rub. You available?" We humans need to remember: It's OK to ask for some lovin'.

She is tough. I've watched her plow through dense cattails to root out cagey rooster pheasants. I've seen her leap into near-freezing water. I've watched her forge through chest-deep snow. Sometimes, life is not easy. The road ahead can be challenging. But we can often reach our goals if we just put our heads down and get tough.

She is faithful. What else can I say? She was plucked from her littermates when she was 49 days old and fully committed herself to a new life. She is the definition of unconditional love. Isn't that what we're all after in the long run?

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the Duluth News Tribune. Reach him at cooksam48@gmail.com or find him on Facebook at facebook.com/SamCook.

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