My dog Duke, a black Standard Poodle, came to me through the Minneapolis Humane Society in the fall of 2000. Someone dropped him off in the middle of the night. He was a year old. I canceled all my vet appointments to drive up there from Madison. I called him Duke Ellington.
At the time, my marriage had just ended and I was living in another house in Madison. It was a difficult time. So into my life he came. At first, we didn’t connect. That took some time. After a few months, I guess he realized he was stuck with me, so we bonded pretty well. He learned my habits. I learned his.
The next several years were fraught with a lot of pain. There is something so wonderful about coming home to a happy, furry dog who gives unconditional love. It heals a lot of hurts. There was a time during those years when I sunk so low, I felt like it was time to end my life. I was sitting on the couch crying. I felt lost and alone. I had lost touch with God. Adrift. I had Poodledoc, Jr, a wonderful son, but I felt I wasn’t going to be a good father to him. Duke got up from his bed, came over to me and rested his head on my thigh. His brown eyes looked right into mine. I knew then I could not kill myself. It shook me out of my downward spiral.
As I mentioned, it felt like God was gone from my life. I felt all alone in the universe. But then this………..dog, reached out to me at a critical time. As I reflect on this, I believe he was a “nudge” from God. I’ve wondered if he was an angel, which my sound bizarre. I’m not quite sure I believe in angels, at least not the ones with wings and halos. But maybe that’s what angels are, nudges from God. Messages that alter our lives. Sometimes we don’t see it at the time. But it happens.
Life is much happier now. I feel very connected with God and the Universe. Duke is 8 years old. Sometimes when I watch him running at the dog park, I feel sad about the fact that he won’t live forever. Well, none of us will. Then I watch him running through the grass or the snow, spinning and dancing. Chasing other dogs. Ecstatic. Living life as full as he can. I don’t think he has any concept of his own mortality. Or maybe he does. Anyway, he continues to show me that while life is in me, I need to live it as fully as I can. Sometimes I think I hear him say “I saved you back then………..so you could live this happiness now”.
Perhaps this sounds like one of those sappy dog stories. In a cynical world, what’s wrong with being sappy and noticing the love of people and animals around us and how they all challenge us to live full lives? What’s wrong about noticing God or the Divine or the Light or the Universe or whatever you want to call it in the world?
As Duke Ellington himself once said, “If it feels good, it is good”. My dog always reminds me of this.