A reader recently e-mailed me a sad story about a dog from the perspective of a 6-year-old boy. Our family has shared our home with several loyal and lovable golden retrievers, so the story caught my attention more than most. It told about the family dog that had cancer and had to be euphemized. The father and mother thought their son could learn something from the experience. As the dog slowly drifted away, the little boy seemed to accept the dog's transition without any difficulty or confusion. The family sat together for a while after the dog's death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. The young son already had it figured out, and announced, "I know why."
His explanation was stunning in its depth and simplicity. He said: "People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right? Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long."
We can learn a lot from dogs. Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It's the best deal anyone has ever made.
The veterinarian who cared for this dear family pet, and so many others, offered some other lessons that dogs can teach us (there are more than 70 million dogs in the United States):
-- When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. Dogs treat us like celebrities when we come home. There's nothing wrong with showing people that we care about them.
-- Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joy ride. On warm days, there's nothing wrong with stopping to lie on your back on the grass. I think of Richard Gere's character in the movie "Pretty Woman." He was so busy working -- doing big business deals -- that he never stopped to enjoy walking barefoot in green grass until Julia Roberts showed him.
-- Take naps. Many of us are on overload, so in life you have to know when to throttle up and throttle down. If you can't take a nap, at least take a break. It will improve your disposition.
-- Run, romp, and play daily. If you have a chance to have fun, go for it. Life presents plenty of difficult times, and we all need a break every now and then. My motto: Work hard and play hard.
-- Let people touch you. Don't be aloof. Allow people to get close to you.
-- Avoid biting when a simple growl will do. Just make sure that your bark isn't as bad as your bite. It's OK to warn people that you're upset or even angry, but keep your temper in check.
-- When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body. Happiness is the American way. After all, the Declaration of Independence says we are endowed "with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." So we have a right to be happy!
-- Delight in the simple joy of a long walk. Exercise is always good. I've been doing it all my life. It just makes me feel better, gives me energy to work more productively and, I hope, live longer. My philosophy is: Exercise doesn't take time; it makes time.
-- Be loyal. In a recent column about loyalty, I wrote that one of the first qualities that I look for in both employees and friends is loyalty. And my friends know they can expect my loyalty in return.
-- If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. I'm constantly asked what the secret of success is, and persistence is at the top of the list. When you study truly successful people, you'll see that they have made plenty of mistakes, but when they were knocked down, they kept getting up ... and up ... and up.
-- When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently. People remember two things in life -- who kicked them when they were down, and who helped them on the way up.
Mackay's Moral: My goal is to be as good a person as my dog thinks I am.