Animals teach us so many things. They teach us what it means to give someone else unconditional love. They teach us how to laugh at ourselves. They give us so much insight into ourselves.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I believe having a pet makes us better people because instead of always thinking about ourselves, pet ownership makes those of us who take having an animal seriously live up to the responsibility of caring for a pet. What bothers me to no end is watching individuals who don't realize how lucky and blessed they are to have a pet, so they treat their animal with indifference. Pet ownership is a serious and time-consuming responsibility that takes a lot of work. In fact, when someone decides to bring a new puppy into his or her home, it's almost like having a new baby. Too many people don't understand the magnitude of that commitment and bring home a new puppy without realizing what they are getting themselves into. No one should bring any kind of pet into their lives unless they intend to give that pet the love and respect it deserves.
I recently had a discussion about leadership with a friend who had authored a book on the topic. As we talked about the traits of competent leaders, I mentioned that one of the most important lessons I had ever learned came from an experience with my dog. When I told Terence the story about my dog and how he taught me the power of tenderness, he urged me to tell the story in one of my columns.
Back in the 1980s my son was a U.S. Marine Corps officer stationed at Twentynine Palms, Calif. One day while shaving, he got a funny feeling that someone or something was staring at him. As a result, he looked out the bathroom window and saw a beautiful dog looking back at him. He assumed the dog belonged to another resident of his off-base neighborhood. The dog kept hanging around my son and his fellow officers, and my son finally convinced everyone that they should temporarily adopt the dog until they found his rightful owner.
My son asked around the neighborhood to see if anyone was missing a dog and ran an ad in the local newspaper, but no one claimed the magnificent Alaskan Malamute my son had come to love.
When Marines are transferred, it can be with little notice and often to overseas bases. When their families move abroad rarely are provisions made for the transfer of pets. Couple this with the fact that many nations require a long quarantine period for any animal crossing their border, and the situation presents a quandary for pet owners. Therefore, very often military families have no alternative but to let their pets out the backdoor in hopes another family will take them in. It became apparent that Merck, as my son named him, was one of those unfortunate animals. A few months after adopting the dog, my son was sent out on a ship with the 3rd Marine Division, which toured the Middle East just previous to the Gulf War. Before he headed out to sea, my son would bring Merck home to me for safekeeping.
Tipping the scales at more than 100 pounds, Merck was all dog. He was one of the most beautiful dogs I had ever seen, and he certainly had a mind of his own. Even though we had a substantial enclosed dog run at our home, Merck would somehow manage to get away and disappear to who knows where. I spent many nights trying to track him down. I was frustrated by his frequent escapes, so I sought advice from veterinarians and other pet owners as to what to do. Some told me I should practice strict discipline with the dog, while others told me that I should hit him in order to get his attention. Not satisfied with the advice I had received, I continued to look for answers.
Eventually I was lucky enough to be referred to a vet in Minneapolis who gave me great advice. He said, "Your dog is looking for his former owners-the family that raised him. His heart has been broken and he's looking for someone to love him. He needs lots of hugs and kisses and he has to be made to feel that he belongs with you. If you give him tons of attention over the next few months, I guarantee things will improve."
I followed that advice and made sure I spent lots of time with Merck, even cutting back on my business travel so I could be with him. In a matter of weeks, Merck had become a completely different dog. I had made sure he understood how much I loved and cherished him, which allowed him to feel safe and settled. It was a real awakening for me as to how powerful the use of tenderness and love can be.
I had the pleasure of having Merck as my best buddy until he turned 14. I held him in my arms when they put him to sleep and I have never forgotten what he taught me about the meaning of love, tenderness and plenty of hugs.
I was blessed,
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