Never expecting a tribute in print is one of the many adorable traits of a good pet dog. For a job well done, he (or she, there being mercifully just two canine genders) is perfectly happy with nothing more than a biscuit, a pat on the head, a walk in the woods or a scratch behind the ear. But a good dog deserves so much more.
Today being Thanksgiving, I find myself once again grateful for the traditional things for which we offer thanks on this date—freedom, bountiful harvests, family, good health, and so much more. High on my list is the dog, by which I mean dogs in general, the 15-year-old rat terrier I presently have, and all the other canine friends I’ve known or possessed since my childhood days.
I’m not sure where my love of dogs comes from, but it’s been a powerful impulse for as long as I can remember. Any time I see someone walking one, my eyes go straight to the canine after no more than a momentary glance at the owner. I feel an immediate connection—to the dog.
My furry friend Clarkson is a senior citizen. Except for failing eyesight and hearing, he’s still in reasonably good health. But I dread the day when he won’t be around to greet me when I come home or make sure I get my daily walks. I know I’ll never forget him or all the others I’ve owned before him—their loyalty, their quirks, or even their occasional annoyances that were often for my own good.
Every decent dog owner knows his dog is special, and in that, every dog owner is exactly right. The more you love a dog, the more he pays you back in ways nobody else sees or knows. You feel it deep down, and I think he does too. They’re called “man’s best friend” for good cause. I don’t doubt for a minute that I’m a better person because of what my dogs have done for me.
We naturally miss our canine friends when they’re gone, but stories abound of dogs that also miss the humans they love.
In Cadiz, Spain there’s a street named for a dog named Canelo who walked regularly to a local hospital with his master who received dialysis treatments there three times a week. When the owner died, Canelo was cared for by local residents, who watched him walk to that same hospital and wait outside three faithful times each week for the next 12 years.
A statue in Tokyo honors an Akita named Hachiko. After the passing of his master, Hachiko returned every day for the following nine years—at the same time to the same train station where he had always met his owner upon his return from work. You can even watch a 2009 movie based on him, called Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.
On my last visit to Scotland a few years ago, I made a point to take a slight detour as I walked the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. I wanted to see the monument to “Greyfriars Bobby,” a little Skye Terrier who lived from 1855 to 1872. Though there is some dispute about certain details of the story, he apparently guarded and slept on his master’s grave for 14 years after his master’s untimely death.
Who can forget the image of the retriever named Hawkeye, who stayed for hours by the coffin of his owner, a Navy Seal who was killed in Afghanistan in 2011 when the helicopter he was riding on was shot down? See him here:
And don’t forget the indispensable work canines do as service dogs, guide dogs, rescue dogs, police dogs and war dogs—all for the purpose of helping their human friends. Perhaps you think they’re just “dumb animals” who know nothing but what instinct and human training tell them to do. I can’t prove it but I’ve always thought the bond I’ve had with my dogs was deeper than that.
A century and a half ago, a young lawyer and later U.S. Senator named George Graham Vest delivered the best speech on dogs, ever. He said in part, “The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.”
Or if you prefer, you can watch Ronald Reagan delivering it in an old episode of Death Valley Days, here:
Once on the Tonight Show, actor Jimmy Stewart brought the audience to tears with this moving tribute to one of his own dogs:
This past June, I lost my older terrier, Wilber, who passed at nearly 17. Knowing that my Clarkson won’t be with me much longer has prompted me to think about the effect he and Wilber and all my previous mutts have had on me.
Because of these adorable and loyal critters, I believe I’m a more disciplined person. Like clockwork, they let me know when they need to go outside or for a walk or be fed. They’ve made me more fully appreciate unconditional love, commitment, and life itself. I have so many more reasons to smile and feel good, even inspired, when I’m around them. When I take them for a hike through the woods or the neighborhood, their excitement and boundless energy remind me how important freedom is, even to our intelligent four-legged friends.
I could go on and on but if you’re a long-time dog owner, you know what I’m talking about. I hope you’ll go out of your way, as I plan to do today, to let your dog(s) know how much you appreciate them.
As humans, we’re smart but not so smart that we can’t learn a thing or two from these creatures. Maybe dogs are God’s way of telling humankind, “You can do better.” Add that to the long list of why we should be thankful for our faithful and furry friends.
In their own language, dogs speak to us. I know mine does. For the reader’s benefit, I close with this selection of Clarkson’s quotes—translated to English from the dog dialect he utters so eloquently:
“No matter what anyone may say, you’re the most special person in the world.”
“I love you no matter what.”
“You rescued me when I needed it. Every day for the rest of my short life, I shall return the favor.”
“Sitting on your lap makes me feel as though I’m on top of the world.”
“Lying at your side means more to me than you’ll ever know.”
“For me, Thanksgiving is every day that I’m with you. Thanks for everything. And I do mean everything!”
For additional Thanksgiving-related articles, see:
The Mayflower Compact: As an Idea, American Began in 1620, Not 1776.
Why the Pilgrims Abandoned Common Ownership for Private Property.
What 17th Century England’s State Church Had in Common With Today’s School Systems.
Luck or Miracle: Samoset and the Pilgrims, 400 Years Later.