“Well, if it isn’t the dog guy,” a stranger said with a smile while we waited in line at the gas station last week. “I know who you are,” he said, but I extended my hand anyway.
“I read your column,” he continued. “Never missed one.” He went on about his life growing up on a farm with many animals, among them several dogs. My delight was short-lived, however, because what followed next caught me off guard: “I just can’t relate to loving an animal that much because at the end of the day, JD, dogs are still just dogs.”
With the radio off, I was quiet with my thoughts driving home. I reminded myself how important it is to respect that not all have loved their dogs the same way I had Buddy, and to remember not all have been affected as greatly. Certainly, the roles that pets play in our lives are unique and can differ substantially. I thought of three very particular dogs I wish this stranger knew about — dogs that were clearly more than “just dogs.”
Once home, I found the card mailed to me by a local family with a 16-month-old daughter named Taylan. Referring to some fundraising promotional help I provided on the airwaves, it reads, “Our family would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all of your support and contributions in helping our daughter get her diabetic alert dog. Your generosity will never be forgotten.”
On the inside of the card is a marvelous photo of Pluto, a black Lab proudly sporting an orange service dog vest with a caption that reads, “Until there is a cure, there is a dog.” Along with the photo of a very happy family of four is one of little Taylan hugging Pluto.
Consider 16-year-old Anthony Lyons, who frequently gets treatment at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, he was undergoing chemotherapy that prevented him from seeing his beloved dogs. A Facebook campaign was started as a plea to all dog lovers around the world to post pictures of their dogs for Anthony to see. The result was nothing short of astonishing, with nearly 1 million photos being posted and almost 2 million people joining.
Quickly going viral, the event made news headlines around the globe and ultimately accomplished its goal of bringing smiles and cheer to a boy who simply needed a reminder that others might love their dogs as much as he loved his.
Then there is the story of a local veteran who just returned home to Vermont after serving four tours in the Middle East. Suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, he had seen his marriage deteriorate after he lost his job. He even contemplated suicide before getting help. Help arrived in the form of a canine specially trained in recognizing signs of PTSD and anxiety. His symptoms have since all but vanished. All because of a dog that stays close at all hours around the clock and understands without questioning.
For those of you like my new friend at the gas station, reconsider the role your dog plays in your life. Does it just lie around and exist like the furniture? Or is it overly hyper, seemingly without a brain? Does it spend the days bored, locked up in a pen outdoors serving little purpose and half the time hardly noticed?
To my reader friend from the gas station, I offer a challenge: Bring that dog indoors and give it a bath. Learn some patience. Discover compassion. Get the dog a collar and pick up a book on obedience.
But most of all, the next time you think a “dog is just a dog,” remember these true stories about Anthony who is cheered by nothing but the mere sight of a dog; the little girl Taylan with diabetes who is too young to say when she doesn’t feel well and her dog Pluto who can sense low blood sugar better than any doctor or machine; and that local veteran whose life was turned upside down and then right side up again all because of a dog.
And if you still believe that at the end of the day, a dog can only be a dog, I challenge you to say this to these folks. Actually, it’s much more than a challenge. I triple dog dare ya.