Ceilidh and I were talking about hope the other day. I had come home after an especially frustrating day at work and the notion of hopelessness was on my mind. I think it was in relation to funding, actually. But trying to turn things to a more positive perspective, by the time I got home, I’d begun to ponder the concept of hope.
You will have noted that Ceilidh‘s name appears on the title of this blog. She said to me when I came home after the “hopeless” day, “I was hoping that I might get a bit of airtime too.” It got me thinking about dogs and hope. What is “hope” anyway? Our Collins Pocket Reference English Dictionary (it’s what I have handy) defines it as a verb: “to want something to happen or be true.” Wow! Does that not describe a dog’s life? From the time they get up in the morning, they hope for breakfast. That happens and then they hope for a walk to read the morning pee-mail and eliminate. That happens and then they KNOW that they will sleep until mid-day when the human at home (Mary Doug—who works at home) may take a break from her work and have lunch. They hope they’ll be lucky and find a crumb, or wear her down with large, mournful, brown-eyed stares until she succumbs to their charm and desperation. Then they hope for a mid-day stroll to check pee-mail replies and return to sleep for the afternoon. Mary Doug tells me that at 4:00 pm sharp, Freckle rises from her slumber and stretches. Then she begins to walk around the room glancing at Mary Doug expectantly. If necessary, her tactics progress to insistent sighs and nudges with her muzzle until Mary Doug’s laptop is skiwify in her lap and her attention has been completely diverted from her work. Ceilidh joins in, depending on whether or not it is raining (she hates the rain!).
So is that late afternoon behaviour “hope” or “knowing?” “Knowing” (from the same dictionary): “to be or feel certain of the truth—of information, etc.” Does this seem just a wee bit further along the “hope continuum?” Dogs offer the best example of positive thinking that I’ve ever seen. Forget Marty Seligman (author of Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment and Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/) or Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience http://qlrc.cgu.edu/mike.htm)! Dogs have the power of positive thought down pat … and, this is the most impressive part, when their hoping/knowing/positive thinking doesn’t work, they just move on to hoping/knowing/positive thinking for the next thing. There’s no falling off a cliff into a paroxysm of despair. They just move on. Now that’s inspiring!
So, getting back to Ceilidh. Some of the most important things in life I’ve learned from my dogs. Each dog I’ve had has taught me something important … or should I say spent their lifetime trying to teach me (I can be stubborn!). Ceilidh … she is, as Mary Doug says, my “heart dog.” I had never heard this expression before, but apparently, it’s the dog who has the greatest hold on your heart. The dog with whom you feel that special, undiscussed bond. You love all of your dogs, but your “heart dog” has a bit more emotional square footage.
Ceilidh (who is a Pug whose name is pronounced “Kay-lee” for those of you who haven’t met her), has been my “heart dog” since we brought her home when she was six months old. She was a funny little pup—not a “show dog” because her bottom jaw was a bit too long. For this reason, she languished at the breeder’s until she was the matronly age of six months. We luckily happened to call to enquire about a “slightly older” Pug. Our Boxer, Bridget, was about a year and a half at that point and plenty rambunctious. We’d done our research and had heard that Pugs were tough—and fortunately it turned out that they are!
Ceilidh, like most people, has her faults. She’s a food monster. Mention any kind of food, in any language you like, and she’ll know it and go immediately into a frenzy—she makes a blender-like noise and her legs begin an eggbeater-like dance! Food means more to her than life itself. But Ceilidh encapsulates the very essence of hope. For Ceilidh, hope and knowing is pretty much the same thing. She knows that her meal will appear at the appropriate time twice a day and that her bedtime snack will appear in a timely manner too. Hoping is what she does while she’s waiting. On the rare occasion when she’s had to have a medical test or procedure which precluded a meal, she never lost that look of expectation and knowing that we would not let her down. And when we did let her down—because we couldn’t give her a meal—she simply went with it. She knew that we had simply gotten confused and messed up on our responsibilities, but she never stopped hoping… never stopped knowing that we would feed her.
Having lived with two rescue dogs—Sassy and now Freckle—I believe that hope is part of the canine package. Rescued creatures often come to their forever homes with heartbreaking histories… having experienced horrific abuse and neglect—the worst that human nature can offer. Dogs who have been tied up and left outside until chain collars become embedded in their flesh. Dogs who have been starved until they are mere skeletons or dumped in the middle of nowhere to fend for themselves. But if these creatures find a home where they experience patience, love, and kindness, they transform before your eyes. It’s as if the seed of hope can never be destroyed and it lies dormant in abused creatures. Kindness is an elixir that enables the seed to germinate and become visible again. That we have the ability to offer that elixir and that creatures have the ability to regenerate hope in response is magical to me. Surely growing kindness and hope is among the most important things that we can do in life.