The sun was just beginning to set as I wearily sat down in the wobbly lawn chair near the fire pit and propped my dusty cowgirl boots on the log in front of me.
The sounds of nature were beautiful at this time of day and I began to listen to the soothing, repetitive munching of grass from the horses in the paddock beside me when someone offered me a cup of coffee. My dogs settled into the dusty soil around me and I accepted the beverage while petting Raider on the head. He took that as an invitation to hop up on my lap and, even though he is a 45-pound dog, he manages to make himself very little when he does this.
“You really love those dogs don’t you?” I heard the calm, deep voice behind me say and glanced back at the tall figure standing in the shadows of the setting sun.
I smiled as I looked at Raider. “With all my heart.”
The tall figure pulled up another wobbly lawn chair beside me, took his cowboy hat off, placed it under his seat and said, “Man’s best friend.”
“Woman’s,” I corrected with a smirk and a wink.
He chuckled, “Fair enough.” He then looked into the flames of the fire and asked, “Why is that you think?”
I followed his gaze into the flames and sat quietly as I thought about the events of my life and why I had chosen to be around animals. I then said, “Loyalty. They posses all the qualities that we want in a best friend.”
The words to the latest Tim McGraw song sprang into my head. “They don’t steal, don’t cheat and don’t lie. They are always humble and kind,” I sighed. “I trust them with my life.”
I turned my eyes to my left and watched a humble smile creep across his face as he nodded in agreement. A horse rattled a snort though its nose and I looked in the direction of the sound to see my horse looking at me over the fence. He gave a soft little nicker at me for acknowledging him and lowered his head back to the grass. I smiled to myself.
I’m not sure why strangers have to be so heartless to one another, why friends bite the hand that feeds them. I used to spend a lot of time brooding over this, but then one day I read a quote from a spiritual teacher named Wayne Dyer who said, “How others treat you is their karma, how you respond is yours.” I then stopped my brooding because I realized being angry at the failings of humans who seem to value money, prestige and social status over authentic friendship was the worst karma I could be creating for myself. Feeling at a loss for guidance, I instinctively began to follow the leadership of my greatest spiritual teachers, my dogs and my horse.
As I watched my dogs curl up by the fire next to other dogs that aren’t in our pack, I saw acceptance. They didn’t care they were different dogs of different breeds. The three-legged Aussie, the black dog of mixed parentage – they all accepted one another. There was no competition, no jealousy, just content happiness.
As I watched my horse peacefully eat grass in the dimming light I felt his quiet mind. It’s a mind that is empty, not due to lack of intelligence, but quite the opposite. It’s a mind that is lucky enough to be blessed with the absence of an ego and the negativity that accompanies it and feeds us with fears that, when left unchecked, perpetuate sheer ugliness.
Sharing my life with animals comforts me from the ugliness of our own species. In my animals, I find the loyal friendship and spiritual connection that is abused by our own kind. Living every moment with them reminds me that kindness and understanding still exist. They give me hope for a better life.
“More coffee?” he asked in his kind and calm way. I shook my head “no.” He then stretched his arm to reach for my hand and I looked at his large calloused palm, open and patiently waiting for me, and softly smiled.
Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.