We are critters all

Posted 4/3/24

It was an assignment in the San Juan Islands. The magazine had sent me to write a couple of features. At the end of the weekend, waiting for the ferry to head back to the mainland, I sat on the beach …

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We are critters all


It was an assignment in the San Juan Islands. The magazine had sent me to write a couple of features. At the end of the weekend, waiting for the ferry to head back to the mainland, I sat on the beach wrapping up my notes on island serenity and simplicity. A young man walked by with a small beagle on a leash. His lively, inquisitive companion was a very young pup. Each time a seagull zoomed in for a landing, the little dog tried to scurry and chase the bird. Each time his excitement peaked, his paws were pulled out from under him by a harsh tug to the lead. And with every yank the puppy choked and flipped upside down.

I witnessed this disheartening behavior a number of years ago. It was long before everyone and his brother carried a gun, so I wasn’t afraid to say something. As it turned out, the young guy was very nice and quite receptive when I lightly commented on his rough behavior. He explained he’d just gotten the dog and wanted to get him trained as soon as possible. I said I’d owned several dogs over the years and understood. I added that control of my pets came easily and without forcefulness, once I got to know my dogs and they knew me. They didn’t learn to behave through fear and pain.

He smiled and thanked me as he bent to pet his dog’s head. “I think I’ve been in too much of a hurry,” he said. “I sure don’t want him to be afraid of me.”

“We’re all receptive to kindness,” I said. He walked away slowly with an easier stride, a calmer companion.

There’s a lot to consider when contemplating a new dog. Breed, age, background and family dynamics all play important roles, and how these concerns are handled is up to each owner. While I firmly believe all dog and human relationships can and should foster goodwill, I’m aware that many do not. I find animal cruelty so appalling I cannot go there in my thoughts or words. Perhaps what I can write about will change some behaviors and save a pup or other critter from harm at the hands of humans.

I think getting to know your dog starts with looking at their face, into their eyes, taking in their unconditional love and trust, offering it back. On the day I adopted my sweet cocker spaniel, Sunny, we sat by the lake near our home and got acquainted with pats, treats, and warm-heartedness. Over the years, rascals Jess and Casey were a handful, but both succumbed to gentle, loving, consistent handling. Even busy Westie, Brodie, who came to me through a desperate divorcing friend and noisily announced every passerby within a two-block radius, calmed somewhat to a quiet word and a few sessions of professional training that incorporated soft strokes and tummy massaging.

I held Dusty close while I could. I almost wept with the love and loyalty he gave, wondering if I would ever come close to replicating his gifts.

Forming a steadfast, trusting bond has always been important for me and my pets as I unhurriedly introduce schedules and good behaviors. For me, the bottom line is choosing to start every pet relationship with the benevolence and understanding all critters deserve. I don’t train them out of who they are, but rather work to enhance their assets.

I’m in awe of the humble links between all living beings. With beating hearts, expanding lungs, pain felt as strongly as pleasure, fear experienced as deeply as joy, two-legged and four-legged respond to and deserve love. Each breath, each whimper is entwined as one spirit, enhancing the energy propelling our universe. A unity of souls, at the end of the day we are critters all.

So, what does this column have to do with aging? Maybe nothing, maybe everything; humanity is ageless.

In truth, today’s column is simply a tribute to sweet Dusty who unexpectedly crossed the Rainbow Bridge. My heart is broken, but there’s peace as well.

“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” — Emerson

Carole Marshall is a former columnist and feature writer. She has written two novels and one fitness book and had stories published in Chicken Soup for the Soul. You can reach her at cmkstudio2@gmail.com