10 Things My Dog Taught Me That Made It Possible for Me to Get Married: Lesson 1

An excerpt from Dog Is My Co-Pilot, from the editors of The Bark

Lesson #1: If your paws are too big to fit in your ears, you have to get someone else to do the scratching.

God played a dirty trick on the Wolfhounds. He gave them huge Marmaduke clubs for paws and these silky delicate ears with tiny openings. When they try to scratch it looks like somebody trying to tweeze their eyebrows with barbecue tongs. There are an infinite number of reasons why humans need Wolfhounds, but the one undeniable reason Wolfhounds need humans is so that the humans can scratch their ears. The two methods Dante prefers are as follows: the knuckle of the forefinger, bent hard and rubbed around the outermost section of the inner ear; or, the thumb and forefinger stretched over the back of the head and massaging the skin directly behind the ear cavity. When I hit the right spot, Dante leans hard into my hand, makes little grunts of happiness, and gets a faraway look in his eye.

My father is a man who takes selfishness to almost bizarre extremes. When I was a kid he used to say, "Pam, one day you'll realize you spend your whole life lying in the gutter with somebody else's foot on your neck." More recently he called to say, "I'm just sitting here looking over my life insurance policy and realizing that there is no way I'm going to reap the rewards of the money I'm putting in here, so if you want the thirty grand after I'm dead, you are going to have to start making these payments."

I knew his worldview was wrong, even as a kid; I just didn't know in how many ways. I used to believe his selfishness was getting him somewhere, allowing him to rip off the world in some way that he found satisfying. And even though I had no desire to emulate it, I saw it as a tactic that worked for him, and later-- although I was ashamed of this -- one that had dramatically influenced me.

I've spent a lifetime unlearning the things my father taught me: Life 101 for those who speak generosity as a second language. When I'm scratching Dante's ears I begin to understand just how much my father's selfishness cost him. I understand -- in the simple language of a born-again kleptomaniac -- that it really is better to give than to receive. Not because of what you might get back, not because of some kind of karmic balance, but because it simply is. Dante always receives the scratching with such simple gratitude, with such total pleasure, and that pleasure comes straight back into me, multiplied one hundred times.

Go to lesson #2

Reprinted from Dog Is My Co-Pilot, from the editors of The Bark © 2003 Permission granted by Crown Publishers.

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