Zac Joseph Doodle
I get a little squirmy when I write about my animal companions. My feelings for them are so primal, so massive, so loud, that I feel a tad embarrassed. Everybody thinks their dog is the cutest, right? Everybody knows their kitty is the most brilliant, certainly? I’m uncomfortable in this realm, because, you see, clearly my dog really is the cutest. Nevertheless, I am forging forward into my animal-writing discomfort for two reasons. First, his birthday is coming next week and he, such a massive resting place for my heart in this world, deserves a mere mention. And secondly, I am reading and inspired by a beautiful book by Gail Caldwell, New Life, No Instructions. She has an incredible capacity to speak of the bond between herself and her dogs with glorious beauty and depth.
By the way, Zac, the dashing character in the above picture, is not a dog; he’s a monk disguised as a dog, traveling through this incarnation wearing a fuzzy salt-and-pepper dog suit with Groucho eyebrows and a scruffy, mind-of-its-own beard. The depth of his connection to the flow state, the limitlessness of his equanimity, as well as the sweetness of his presence all point toward one thing—monk. The guy must be a monk.
Perhaps it was because of his trauma? We rescued him at his 18-month mark. We were his third home; due to family illness and stark circumstance, Zac’s first two homes were temporary. He of such a gentle heart, how profound that upheaval must have been.
Once with us, he was cautious and quiet, never quite looking up. Things very slowly changed. Uber-polite and shy, he relaxed slowly into the organized chaos of our days. Off leash in the woods he was Asperger-like, running like the wind, flying back to check on us only to dash again into his private world of scent, bunny and yummy squirrel. In the wild, he needed nothing from us mere humans. Even the giant cowbell he wore on his collar didn’t still my trembling heart during his wild forays. No matter how far reaching, he always returned to my side.
With Lucy Doodle, our then-four-year-old Golden Doodle, the Party Dog, born to play, he was the perpetual sidekick. He did her bidding, she the brain, he clearly the brawn in their antics. Together they managed to pull the 18-pack-hamburger rolls off the counter and devouring all evidence, bag, bun, plastic zip-tie on that hot Fourth of July, so convincingly that I questioned my actual purchase. Antic after antic, Zac on the sidelines implementing Lucy’s orchestrated high jinx.
Lucy’s passing changed everything. The shy guy from the sidelines, the tender-hearted yet ferocious bunny hunter, Zac slowly meandered into the center of our home and the center of our heart. He lived into his new role as the Only Dog with aplomb and grace.
How has it happened that this 54-pound animal has carried me through this year-from-hell, with snoring and walking and dog-eyes filled with grace? How has he taught me and comforted me and healed me? I don’t know. But I do know—we have shared:
- Hundreds and hundreds of miles walked, side by side, in all these years.
- Sunrise after sunset after sunrise again, we walked together into darkness and light.
- Challenge after possibility after challenge again, by my side he sits, and me, by his, living in the center of his calm.
And now, the Man-Dog, Mr. Monk, My Zac, faces his eleventh birthday. His muzzle is almost fully greyed, his back legs stiffer, his hearing seeming a bit compromised. His wild dance of weaving joy throughout the house upon our return on wild, Elvis Presley legs, isn’t a sure thing these days. Some afternoons I walk in and he sits up on his bed, surprised I am there.
It is changing. His preciousness is aging and I don’t want it to.
And it is.
One day at a time, may Zac and I continue to walk and breathe and share in the silence of the dozens of daily grace-filled rituals that weave together our lives.
One day at a time, may I continue, through his guidance, to practice presence and loving, and becoming more of who I really am.
One day at a time.
Mary Oliver says it all in this 49 second link. To celebrate Zac’s 11th birthday, here is Mary reading from her book, Dog Songs.
Dear Friend-Reader-Folk, are there animals in your life—now, then, or up ahead? Do you have any animal stories of the high jinx, any reflections about the teachings and the healings that our companions bring us? Please pass them on. I am email@example.com.
All blessings—and happy birthday to Zac,