“Friskie! Cowboy! Starburst!” I hollered as I stood at the back door. “Come on, dogs. Let’s go!”
Friskie and Cowboy responded immediately. Both dogs came running quickly across the backyard. I laughed as I watched their small bodies leaping and gliding across the grass. After running around in circles a few more times as they chased after each other, the Dachshund and the mutt bounded up the five wooden steps and into the dining room through the open back door. I laughed as I pulled my legs out of the way so I wouldn’t block their progress.
All right, now where is Starburst? I wondered as I looked around the backyard. “Starburst!” I hollered. “Come on, girl. I gotta leave for class. Get yourself in this house. Come on.” I don’t know why I always try to reason with the dogs. Somewhere in my muddled brain, I knew Starburst couldn’t understand what I was saying, but I didn’t care. I still tend to talk to our three dogs as if they are rowdy, little kids. And I was desperate now that they understand me. I had to get all the dogs inside because I needed to be at the community college in just a few minutes. The dogs were never left outside when there was no one home.
“Star! Starry! Starbutt!” I ran through all of our little Shih Tzu’s known nicknames, but there was still no response. I took a deep breath and fought back a flood of emotions. First, I felt frustrated. “Come on, girl! I need to get going!” When there was still no response, I began to get a little nervous. God, what if the dog got out of the fenced backyard somehow? Did someone leave the gate open? What if someone took the dog out of our backyard? Do people actually dognap? Okay, maybe that is a little extreme, but I couldn’t stand the thought of something happening to our adorable, blond and brown, furry pet.
Taking a deep breath, I started to step away from the back door. “Star!” And suddenly, there she was! I laughed as I watched the small dog running towards the house from the far back fence. She was racing across the back yard with her long fur flying back, and her little tongue lolling out of her mouth. “Come on, girl!” I cheered her on.
But then, to my surprise, Starburst suddenly came to a complete stop. “It’s okay, Star, get in the house,” I shouted. But she wasn’t moving. Star had been running excitedly towards the house but had come to a screeching halt when she suddenly found a branch from our large oak tree lying on the ground and blocking her way to the door. She stood quietly still for just a moment as she stared helplessly at the branch. “You can do it,” I told her as I remained by the back door. “Come on, girl, just jump over it.”
But Star just stood there as she contemplated the obstacle that had appeared in her path. Slowly, she stuck out one of her long, thin paws and pushed at the branch. She swatted cautiously at a few of the spindly twigs that were sticking crookedly up from the long piece of wood. As the branch rocked away and then rolled back towards Star again, the dog jumped and barked at the attacking limb. I started to laugh, before saying, “Jump over it, Star.” But the little dog hesitated at she swatted again at the branch.
“Then go around it,” I tried to tell her. “Star, if you can’t jump over the branch, you can walk around it. It’s not that big.” There it was again. I was trying to reason with an animal who couldn’t possibly even contemplate my thoughts. But still, that didn’t stop the words tumbling out of my mouth. “Come on, Star, just go around it.”
I watched as Starburst walked towards the branch and then jumped back. Her little body leaped forward again as she barked at the unyielding limb. Then she jumped back, pranced around on her long legs, and took a hesitant leap forward. However, her movement was so awkward, she still landed on the wrong side of the branch. Starburst still found her passage to the house blocked. She reached out her paw one last time, pushed at the branch and then did something that I had to admit I had done on several occasions.
She just finally gave up.
Instead of fighting against the branch any longer, she just took a deep breath and then keeled over onto her right side. She just lay there, motionless and helpless, against the branch.
“Star, oh my gosh, girl,” I sighed as I now left the doorway. I walked across the yard, stepped over the branch and stood over the prone Shih Tzu. I reached down and picked up the dog’s furry little body. I placed her four paws on the ground and then said, “Like this Star.” Then I raised her up high enough to jump over the branch and placed her on the other side. As soon as her little feet hit the ground, Star was off and running again as if nothing had happened. She ran towards the house with her little rear swishing back and forth and her tail wagging proudly. As I followed the dog towards the house and stepped inside, I suddenly had a moment’s realization. I couldn’t stop remembering the times when I had given up just because some small obstacle had suddenly blocked my path. Yes, I would reach out occasionally and try to push the obstacle out of my way. I would just bat at the problem a few times before finally giving up in tears and frustration. How many times have I thrown myself down on the ground just like Starburst did?
But now, I also realized that there was one difference between Starburst and me. The dog had gratefully and gladly accepted my help. She didn’t resist the assistance I had given her and then once the situation was corrected she had just merrily continued on her way.
Oh, my gosh, how many times have I resisted help from other people out of a silly sense of pride? How many times has my ego made me respond, “Oh, I’m fine, that’s okay, thanks” whenever someone had offered to help me move the obstacles away? And how many times, when someone did help me, did I refuse to show sincere gratitude because I thought accepting help was a sign of weakness. I refused help so I would not have to feel obligate to anyone without realizing that allowing others to help is a gift we give to each other. It is a chance to feel needed and connected to another soul.
Now, I walked into the house and looked at all three dogs already cuddled together in their large bed as they slept peacefully. Yeah, I suddenly realized I didn’t need to be strong all the time. I could be vulnerable. I could accept help. I could be sincerely appreciative.
I leaned down and carefully ran my hand over the dogs as I patted each one in turn. Such great lessons I have learned from animals…and ones I will never forget.