Recently some friends of mine found it necessary to put down one of their beloved pets. The dog had been very sick, and the couple had spent a small fortune on vet bills, trying to restore their pet’s health. In spite of those efforts, the vet finally had to admit that there was nothing left to try, and told them that the situation was going to get worse. 

They did their best to keep the dog comfortable; unable to face what they knew would eventually have to be done. But the dreaded day finally arrived, and they said goodbye to their dear friend.

I used to look disdainfully at people who treated their animals as if they were humans.  I found it difficult to understand the preferential treatment those animals were given. Some people treated their pets as if they were their children, and babied them in ways that I just could not comprehend. I have known people who seemed to place more value on their pets than on the humans they had contact with.

I’ll admit that at times, I found it irritating and a little disgusting.

I’ve always had pets. Growing up on a farm, we had all kinds of animals. Some of them were pets, and others produced or even became became food. We loved our pets, but there was a definite distinction between our pets and our family members. 

While I still believe that some people go overboard in caring for their pets, I have started to see things in a new light. A small dog that came to live at our house has helped me to understand those attachments. 

She is a very tiny dog, and she is the first dog I have ever had that totally lived indoors. That took some getting used to. My dogs have always lived outside.

But somehow this little mutt has found a way into my heart. She has taught me many things over the past two years, things that I l apply to my human relationships. 

She never takes me for granted and is always excited to see me. I may have only been away for a couple of hours, but when I walk through that door, she can’t wait for me to sit down so she can welcome me. There have been times when the rest of my family was busy with their activities and completely unaware of my arrival. But this little dog is always the first one to greet me, and she does so with excitement and joy. 

Dogs aren’t easily offended, and they forgive easily. There are times I have accidentally stepped on her, neglected her, or spoken harshly to her. But she never holds it against me. Her trust and devotion never wavers. Sometimes she wants to play, but I am too busy with other things. She never resents my inattentiveness. She just lies down and waits patiently for me to finish my work.  

No matter what sort of day I have had, or what mood I happen to be in, she is always glad to see me. She wants nothing from me except love and maybe an occasional treat. 

In contrast, I have had humans totally ignore me, or even avoid me after some minor disagreement. The sad truth is, we tend to love our human counterparts conditionally. As long as they treat us a certain way, and meet our expectations we get along just fine. But in the event of a miscommunication, or a petty misunderstanding, we often treat each other very unkindly and are not always quick to forgive. All too often, we are more concerned about how a situation affects us than we are about the needs and feelings of someone else.

But dogs seem to have an unconditional love. It’s not based on what you did or didn’t do. A dog loves you in spite of what you are or how you act. Many times I have walked through the front door with an attitude that didn’t deserve love from anyone. But that small dog has been waiting at the door for my return. She loves me in spite of myself and wants to let me know how happy she is to see me.

We can learn a lot from our pets. We can learn patience, tolerance, appreciation and devotion. We can learn not to let the little things upset us, and to care more about others than we do ourselves. We can learn to make people feel valued, loved and needed. We can learn to love others in spite of rather than because of.

When the little dog joined our family, there were many things I thought she needed to learn. but looking back, I realize that she has taught me much more than I have taught her.

CourierTraveler reporter John Shelman can be contacted at (620) 442-4200 or reporter@ctnewsonline.com.

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