I Am Learning the Art of Happiness from My Dog

Rosa with the snow rake


We had some snow here in Prescott on New Year’s Day. It was a gorgeous blizzard. Flagstaff couldn’t have done much better, though I know they did.

Cars fishtailed on the roads, some slid out. People stayed in.

I had to help Barb shovel her way clear into the garage. Her Honda Accord hybrid almost didn’t make it. Good thing it crunched its way up the hill that far. It was one of those days you tell yourself you didn’t need to go to the gym. Shoveling’s hard work. Old guys, even muscular, fit old guys, have to pace themselves. Heart risk, you know.

Barb helped. We found ourselves short of shoveling supplies. I used the fairly effective plastic shovel. She deployed a rake; if you find the right pulling motion you can do some good with it, especially with the powdery snow we had.

I got mad at one point. Barb had her front tires in the garage; she was home, she was in. I’d busted ass shoving her out of the rut to get her in. Then in her infinite wisdom she decided to pull back out so I could knock the snow off her car roof, lest it puddle the garage.

“No, honey. Please. Bad idea. You’ll get stuck again!”

“But there’s no drainage in our garage.”

“It’ll evaporate!”

She backed out and got stuck again. Normally, the next sentence would be, “I could have killed her.” But I was in too good a mood. After knocking the snow off her car I threw carpet down around her tires and she crunched her way out of it and back into the garage.

I was feeling so fine I even wound up helping the neighbor down the lane shovel out.

The snow cheered me and my wife.

And our dog loves snow. She’s a maniac for snow.

We let Rosa out. We’re not supposed to let her run loose but we did. She tore out the door like a bull out of a rodeo gate, went ripping and snorting and snuffling and charging and romping and just generally tear-assing around, not just our property but the whole immediate neighborhood, up and down the rock hills on which these crazy houses are built. We live in the foothills of the Bradshaw Mountains. Some of these homes give onto a gully, stilt footings digging into the mountain side.

It’s one of those Home Owners Associations. Bunch of rich or comfortably retired people writing letters to the president of the HOA about loud dogs on the loose, though many people love our dog. Rosa’s quite popular. She’s the kind of dog you’re walking her and people stop their car and ask about her.

I often feel I don’t fit in here with these Republicans in multimillion dollar houses, refugees from the liberalism of California or the swelter of Phoenix. Here I am rumbling down the drive at three thirty in the a.m. to get to a stocking job at Walmart. What am I doing here?

Rosa has snatched burritos and food bits from construction guys, and, shamefully, she’s nipped people. There are good reasons to keep her on the leash. Tired though we both are at our age, my wife and I try to leash her up to give her the exercise she needs in a way that won’t incur the wrath of these somnolent retirees.

But on some occasions we do let her loose. Neighbors who were outside New Year’s Day laughed with me and Barb watching Rosa romp. She’s affectionate if high strung. When I roll the garbage down the drive Wednesday nights I let her loose. It’s hilarious to see her prancing like a stallion down the long drive as I roll the barrels down. She celebrates the ritual as if she’s on some proud mission.

In the photo Rosa’s grabbed Barb’s rake, putting a temporary stop in the action. Barb thought to capture the moment. Just look at how keen that dog is!

Which brings me to my point.

There always has to be a point, boys and girls.

What do we regard as important? That the bills be paid? That our sons and daughters qualify for the right college and make enough money to keep us in Depends come the time of our own decrepitude? That the Browns do even better next year than they did last?

None of it even comes close to mattering the way something matters to a dog.

She sees those big black birds wheeling around in the sky as she patrols the deck and erupts in electrifying feral barking; she’s in the visceral moment. You put down a plate of food – let’s say Canidae bison-based kibble decorated with bacon I just fried as part of my own breakfast – and the way she attacks that meal shows me this is important. She cavorts in the snow and grabs the rake because, let’s face it, the future of the Western World is at stake and she’s doing her bit.

If I could enjoy my life with the unthinking immediacy and sense of purpose Rosa brings to hers, I’d have it made.

I had a realization that was profound at my therapist’s. I said after the miserable experience last semester I decided to retire from the education biz in May. It’s given me a heavy heart along with a light one to have seen I don’t have the will to go through this again, to deal with the intransigence of oppositional-defiant kids.

So what’ll I do? Go long at Walmart.

Been doing it during Winter Break from school. I took on more hours, maybe to not think about what a shit teacher I am.

I am up to the Walmart challenge. This can be what I do. It sure looks like my employment future till I start collecting Social Security checks at 70 1/2. That’s right, I’m gutting it out that long. Working at Walmart will be fatiguing, even tedious, but I won’t have to deal with abuse from hostile teenagers. I’ve loved much of this career. I still get Facebook postings from former students, the best kids anyone ever had the honor to teach. But the down side of serving the at-risk community, I just can’t bear anymore. I guess, thinking back, I was an angry, screwed-up teenager myself. I shouldn’t have been so surprised. As ever worrying about my own hand in this nightmare, I commuted some nervous F’s to D’s, left the school for Winter Break showered in abuse, and had nothing but time to ruminate on Failure.

I know now that stress relating to teaching angry kids has led to two panic attacks, à la Tony Soprano. One was on December 8, 2014, in my bedroom, during a time I still worked for the Yavapai Accommodation School District. The other fainting fit was four years later to the day, me lying on my back on the shipping dock of Walmart. Anxiety had been chipping away at my jaunty resolve. It’s broken through into my consciousness.

How does Rosa deal with stress?

She has it, to be sure. She whimpers and twitches in her sleep. Whines to be let out of her caged-in area and be with Barb and me in gen pop. But it seems to me she lives far more skillfully than does the angst-ridden Bob Gitlin. Rosa lives her Emersonian truth. She follows her inner drummer. Leads an authentic life. While I’ve been getting bags under my eyes stressing about whether I’ve made the right decision with these teenagers, my Airedale is in the moment. I see now a good deal of the art of living is not about right or wrong but about the lower chakra business of survival. Consumed with anxiety, I do not savor my life.

I wrote about belief in God. When I pull through a tough spot, I thank God. But I’ve been operating under this remorseless, bitter personal philosophy. There is nothing for stress but to suffer through it.

What is that? Stoicism? Existentialism? Rugged individualism?

Rosa has no isms. Just a rake handle in her mouth and another adventure to be lived.

Forecast calls for more snow tomorrow! We’ll let her romp again.

One thought on “I Am Learning the Art of Happiness from My Dog

  1. Dogs and Students teach their teachers like animal testing and preparedness for specific socialization issues. Look at it from a simpler perspective; a grown man inside of box shared with his wife and dog.

    The truth should be mingled with acceptance, so mind the nerves by testing the ever changing waters.


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