A couple of weeks ago my friend Lucy phoned in tears to tell me that her dog Claude had just died. He had fallen out of an upstairs window and died a few minutes later. It was a shocking end to Claude’s life and very difficult to accept.
Over the past ten years or so that Claude had been in Lucy’s life I had grown to love him. I had looked after him on a number of occasions when Lucy went on holiday and got to know his quirky habits. I loved taking him for walks around the park and chatting to strangers who wanted to know what breed of dog Claude was.
Claude was a Schipperke and looked like a little black fox. He took his watchdog duties very seriously and was alert to the point of being hyper-vigilant at times. Completely devoted to Lucy, he followed her around like a shadow and was very protective of her.
I loved playing catch with him in the garden, feeding him treats and trying to get him to fetch a ball – Claude would just look at me as if I was an idiot and I never did get him to understand the concept of ‘fetch’.
What Can We Learn from our Relationships with Pets?
Claude’s death got me thinking about what pets can teach us about our own relationships. Looking at the outpouring of emotion on Lucy’s Facebook wall it’s clear that Claude touched many people’s lives. In spite of the fact that Claude peed on the carpet, ran away from home, refused to eat certain foods, loved to tear up tissues in the bed – in spite of all these things, Claude was loved for the dog that he was, warts and all.
When it comes to human relationships pets can certainly teach us a few lessons about how to relate to loved ones and how to be.
Pets are said to provide to unconditional love and in return we love them unconditionally. But how many of us are prepared to offer that same unconditional love and positive regard to the people in our lives? It feels so easy to shower pets with love and attention and give immediate positive reinforcement. But with our loved ones many of us hold back showing affection, or only show someone love if they display it first.
How much better could our relationships be if we were prepared to love unconditionally? I’m not talking about putting up with abuse from a partner, which is obviously unacceptable. I’m talking about the kind of love where you give your love freely and accept another person for who they are, good and bad, without trying to change them or impose conditions.
The older I get the more out of touch I feel with my playful side. This is partly due to the pressures of life and also not having my own children or pets to play with. But I remember laughing, running and jumping and being silly with Claude in a way that made me forget myself for a while. Those were moments of pure, simple joy. It would be nice to have more of them.
Forgiveness and Appreciation
Sometimes we may be quick to judge our partners and friends, or take them for granted. Yet we find it easy to forgive our pets for any misdemeanours in an instant and pets forgive in return.
Or perhaps you find it easy to say ‘Good boy’ when your dog comes when called, but you wouldn’t think of thanking your partner for doing the washing up or cooking a nice meal. Saying ‘thank you’ is easy and small words of kindness can go a long way in making someone feel loved and appreciated.
Love and Compassion
The love and devotion of a pet can sometimes reveal a softer side of a person. My father, a man prone to magnificent displays of anger, sobbed like a baby each time he told me the story of taking Penny, the family dog, to be put down in her old age. I could feel his pain and believed that he really did love her as she brought out a soft, doting side to him I had never seen as a child. It was touching to see that he could be gentle and loving, although I was sad that he hadn’t revealed those qualities earlier.
For some it may be easier to love animals – after all, they can never answer back. In Japan, many people are opting to have dogs instead of children.
I’ve also come across people who get a dog before deciding to have children. Rearing a puppy and training it is a big responsibility and requires time, love and patience, so I can see that it could help to prepare people for the responsibility of child rearing.
Pets are loved for being themselves, foibles and all. They never try to be anything they are not. Perhaps if we were more authentic and less concerned with what people think of us we could enjoy more rewarding relationships based on mutual love and respect.
Goodbye Monsieur Claude
I like to think that Claude’s legacy will live on in the way I relate to loved ones from now on. Having loved Claude I know I am capable of unconditional love, playfulness and forgiveness. I know I am affectionate and can show appreciation. And I know that as long as I am brave enough to be my authentic self, there will be people who will love, accept and appreciate me as I am, foibles and all.
Rest in Peace, Claude. You will never be forgotten and will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you for teaching me so much about love and life.