Monday, October 27, 2008

lessons from tank

this lovable, black haired, labrador/australian shepherd mix joined our family three summers ago when we went to Monterey Bay, CA to help my brother settle in to his senior year of high school. 

as children, my brother and i always begged for a puppy but never got one. you can say tank accidentally worked his way into our home because getting a dog was never really part of the plan. we accompanied my brother to his new boarding school (Monterey Bay Academy) facing the beach and surrounded by strawberry fields. it's a beautiful place and he's very lucky he had the opportunity to go there even for just a year. anyways, we spent a couple days getting supplies for his dorm room, unpacked his stuff, painted the walls, etc. 


on our last day there, the day before my parents and i were supposed to head back to Chicago, the dorm dean (strategically) placed six beautiful black puppies on the front lawn of the dorm. if you know me at all, i'm instantly drawn to animals, specifically dogs and i couldn't resist. i had to go and play with them. he was busy bumping around his smaller sisters with his giant swaying butt, he barely noticed me picking him up. the moment i picked him up, my heart melted. i called for my mom to come and see the little guy (he was actually the biggest of the litter) and apparently he had the same impact on her because well...she changed her flight to accommodate a puppy, we went to a vet to get his shots on that same day, and he now lives with us and keeps us company every day. 

 (there he is playing with some boy in the dorm before we took him away)

i'm sure the dean didn't intend to lure parents into taking home a puppy that day. no actually they were probably hoping that as parents were leaving their children behind for a year to four years, they'd feel lonely and empty at home so the thought of adopting a dog would probably be more effective on Dorm Move-in day than any other day of the year. since the puppies were being given for free, they each were brought home by different sets of families that day. most stayed in california while one went on an airplane to live in the suburbs of Chicago where he is currently being pampered and probably spoiled beyond belief ;) 

my parents (especially my mom) have been truly grateful for tank's company in the past three years because he essentially became their only child left at home. she would buy him sweaters and toys and oh my goodness the list goes on. but what makes life different since tank entered our home and joined our family is the constant love and joy he provides us. 


there's nothing like coming home and being greeted with a wagging tail and excited sway in his body. tank seems to know when we're not feeling so good, when we're sad or angry. i've read that labrador retrievers are especially more sensitive to human emotion than other breeds but having experienced so many things with tank in the past three years, i know that now for sure. two months ago i was extremely upset and crying about something and he just instantly came to my side. i was laying on the couch and he just did his best to console me by licking up my tears and resting his head on my shoulder. what a dog! 

anyways, something happened the other day. if we're not careful to throw them away, tank has this habit of stealing paper towels from the kitchen counter. so he snatched one that probably had the smell or leftover taste of food on it and was chewing it underneath the living room coffee table. he know it's not good for him because it always gives him a hard time when he's trying to relieve himself outside, but he eats them anyway. i was trying to prevent this from happening so i got down on my knees on the opposite side of the coffee table and scolded him to drop the paper towel. he got so caught up in the moment that he growled at me and probably didn't intend to bite me but my hand was too close to his mouth. one of his teeth punctured a gash into my left ring finger and i instantly pulled back and squeezed my throbbing finger. it began bleeding and my mom came to the room to see what had happened. tank immediately knew what he'd done and came to me as if apologizing for allowing himself to get out of hand. but in my anger and pain, i refused to forgive him and yelled at him instead. i was so angry and bitter at him! since i've moved home, he and i have been constant companions every day. i make sure he doesn't miss a meal or a walk every morning and evening. and this is how he repays me?! i told him i would not speak to him for the next whole day and he really seemed to understand me. he just sat quietly on the floor and would steal a few glances at me every now and then as if to say, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you." 

later that night, rather than jumping on my bed like he normally does, he just looked at me kinda hesitantly from the hallway and just had this mournful look in his eyes. he was trying to melt me with his eyes, but i wasn't going to budge. i went to bed with my finger still throbbing. the next morning when i woke up, he didn't greet me with a good morning lick, rather the mourning eyes and hesitant body language continued. he was waiting for my approval but i had to hurry and get ready for work. when i came home from work really late last night, he came to door and was waiting for me to pet him. i got down and gave him a long rub and told him that i forgave him and reminded him to never do that again and to obey when we tell him to do something. 

friends again, i sat on the couch with my laptop and he curled up next to me. it's amazing how we humans can hold on to feelings of anger, hurt, sadness, etc, but dogs are easily let it go. when they make a mistake and you make it known to them, they acknowledge their wrong and try to instantly fix it or beg for forgiveness. they just want to be friends again. humans (us) on the other hand, we can stew and begrudge for months and months on end before we realize we have a part to play in bringing relationships whole again. 

sometimes i think labs (or dogs) are more sensitive to humans than humans are to humans. we are so afraid of how our response or emotions are perceived by other humans that we're afraid to be 100% transparent with everyone around us--more often than not with those that are closest to us. i think we have a lot to learn from animals, in this illustration black labrador retrievers. they can teach us how to love unconditionally and forgive when wronged. 

how can i apply this lesson that tank has indirectly taught me to my human relationships?

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