“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
–Mahatma Ghandi (1869 – 1948)
One of my dearest female friends must have had this quote in mind when she called me one morning. She had moved across the country several months ago. I didn’t get to hear from her too often. She moved in search of the new energy and inspiration that a total change of scenery can bring. And she was still searching for her true love. She hadn’t been in a long relationship with a guy for a while.
I was checking my voice mail and heard this interesting message,
“David, I met this new guy, I might really like him. He has a sweet, sweet dog. I want to ask you about some things he does with his dog.”
“Cool,” I thought. “She met a guy. Awesome. She probably wants to get some training advice for him.”
Nope. I called her back and that wasn’t it. She thought this guy might be really cool. Might be a long-term thing. And she KNEW that she could learn more about his character by looking at the way he treated his dog. So she wanted my opinion. She saw him practicing some interesting rituals and wasn’t sure what to think.
“This guy I’m dating always eats dinner before he lets his dog eat,” she told me. “He prepares her food in a bowl and then leaves it on the counter. Then he eats his dinner while she waits. When he’s done, before his dog gets to eat, he asks her to lie down and stay. Then he lowers her bowl to the floor, makes her wait a few seconds, and releases her to eat on his command.”
“Is that normal?” she then wondered aloud before I got a word in.
“It’s what his trainer told him to do,” was the next thought she couldn’t keep inside.
“Don’t worry, sweet friend of mine,” I’m thinking (I can tell she really wants this guy to be cool), “that’s not bad, not bad at all.”
And I told her so, “That sounds like typical ‘make sure you’re the pack leader’ type of stuff,” I said. “Maybe a little overboard as far as his dog being resigned to drool desperately while she smells her meal on the counter the whole time your man eats, but that’s nothing crazy. There are some real, logical benefits to what his trainer told him. He is teaching her: 1) patience, 2) self-control, and 3) that he controls the resources and he’s only going to share his resource with a dog that can be calm, cool, and collected.”
“So you don’t think it’s mean to make her wait to eat?” she asked.
“It’s a bit of a tough love approach,” I said, “but no, it’s not mean. I think having the dog do a Stay before being released to the food bowl is a great practice. I’m just not sure he needs to eat first. That part could be a bit far-fetched, more of a myth.”
“Um-hm,” she said, listening intently on the other end of the phone.
“Let me ask you this,” I said. “Is she a good dog?”
“She’s a GREAT dog,” my friend quickly replied.
“Is he sweet with her?”
“SO sweet with her. They are great together. He never yells at her or anything like that. He just wants her to be a really good dog so he follows the advice of his trainer. He took her to a training school where they used rewards to teach her and she listens really well. He practiced a lot with her. She’s great.”
“Sounds good, sweetie,” I said, relieved. “Go on another date with this guy.”
6 months later…
What a great couple. They’re totally in love. Great guy. And the dog, she’s wonderful. Turns out he saved her life. Adopted her when she had heartworm, paid for the treatment. Watched over her day and night during the intense healing process. After two worm-killing injections, all the dog was allowed to do for 12 weeks was stay inside or go on very calm walks. If her heart rate went up too high, the little pieces of dead heartworm in her bloodstream would move into vessels where they would get stuck and kill her. So he had to be extremely disciplined and caring when he first brought her home. And then for another twelve weeks. His dog made it through. She is forever grateful. And my friend may be forever grateful that she met this beautiful man.
1.5 years after this story was originally written…
These two are happily married. One of the best weddings I’ve ever been to!