The first time you come home after your dog dies is a hard moment.
I never knew exactly how old Bentley was. I rescued him. Not from a shelter but from some people who obviously didn’t treat him well. The only “leash” they had when I bought him was a long laminated steel cable they’d used to tie him up in a backyard.
It’s been said that “environment determines expression”. I’m pretty sure Bentley’s environment before our family included being tied up and left outside in the rain. If dogs can have PTSD, when it came to rain and thunderstorms Bentley had it. He was terrified of the rain.
Bentley was a handsome dog. A real looker. There aren’t too many black and white Boxers around. While his big head and shoulders made for an imposing figure that caused UPS drivers to keep a wary eye, they soon learned he was a gentle soul. A big 90-pound lap dog that would much rather lick your face than bite it.
From the first night at the lake, we became home for him. On that first evening when I wasn’t sure where he was I found him laying across the foot of my daughters’ bed, sleeping the sleep of a grateful dog.
He and pal Sadie had great fun together over the years, riding on the golf cart and swimming in the lake. During a peculiarly cold spell he got to walk on the frozen lake. Then a couple warmer temperature days later experienced the meaning of “thin ice”.
Boxer dogs really do “box” when they play. He and Sadie enjoyed many play fights around the lake. Most Boxers have their tails docked at birth. So when they’re excited their rear end goes back and forth like a windshield wiper on high. Or as Boxer owners’ say, “Welcome to the Wiggle Butt Club”.
Boxers are a quirky breed. Bentley’s way of telling me he missed me was to take something that belonged to me and put it on the deck. I’d find a shoe. Or a slipper. Never chewed up, just moved. One day I came home to find a pair of my jeans draped on the front steps. And returning after a three day vacation, found my pillow stuck in the dog door. Evidently he was trying to send a stronger message about my absence.
An endearing Boxer trait is that they will “ask” for hugs. Bentley would come up to my chair, put his font paws on my legs and lean in. A couple times he was so stressed about something that he skipped the hug and jumped up in my lap.
We don’t fully appreciate our blessings until they’re gone. Which brings me back to now, standing at the front gate.
In all his years, Bentley never missed a moment at the front gate. He was always there, waiting for me to climb the steps. Always with the same enthusiastic greeting that made me feel so glad to be home.
The thing about dogs is their enthusiasm is never relative. Tell your spouse “I’ll be back in 15” and they may not even lift their nose out of the newspaper. But to your dog, a 15-minute trip to the Dollar Store merits the same “welcome home!” as a two-week trip.
Someone has written that we should strive to “be the kind of person our dog thinks we are.” In that light, it strikes me that you and I have multiple front gate moments every day. Opportunities to communicate, “You were gone. But now you’re back. I missed you. Welcome home!”
How would our relationships change if we greeted everyone with the honor and enthusiasm of our dog?
“But, Todd, I just saw my students yesterday. And the day before that. It’s only been 18 hours since I said, “Have a good evening.“
“Uh, I spend Monday through Friday, 8 to 5 with my co-workers. It’s not like we’re missing each other.”
“I see my kids every day. And when I’m not seeing them, I’m tripping over their stuff or picking them up from practice.”
Do you know how many times I told Bentley, “Dude, I just went to town and came back. It’s not a big deal.”?
Did it matter to Bentley?
In the same way our dog doesn’t know what went down in our life during the hours we were away, neither do we know what went down in our students’, co-workers’, or family members’ lives in the hours they were away. In this, our dogs are smarter than we are. They don’t assume anything except that we were gone and now we’re back. And our return merits a heartfelt, tail wagging, butt wiggling “welcome home!”
In a life of painful variables, doesn’t it make sense to apply the constant of unconditional welcome and acceptance?
Our dogs seem to think so.
Every day we have multiple front gate moments. Opportunities to say, “You were gone. But now you’re back. I missed you. Welcome home!”
Be like your dog. Don’t miss a moment.
And if you think being excited to see someone you just saw yesterday is a bit too much, ask yourself how your dog would respond to you saying you just went to the store for orange juice?
Then be like your dog. Don’t miss a moment.
“Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you’d stay out and your dog would go in.”
– Mark Twain
Todd A. Thompson – One Eye Out
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