5 March

On Getting A Dog: Spirituality And The Examined Life

by Jon Katz
Izzy, Rose, Lenore, Frieda
Izzy, Rose, Lenore, Frieda

Everyone gets a dog differently, and for different reasons. For some, it is a political statement. Others see it as saving a life. Some live a sporting life and seek a partner in the outdoor world, or the world of competitions.  Some people just want company. Everyone has the right to get a dog in the way they wish, in the way that works for them, it is, to me, arrogant to tell someone else how to get a dog. I am not in their heads, their lives, their souls or hearts.

There are so many angry and judgmental people in our world, new technology has given them the tools to be thoughtless and judgmental in new and powerful ways. They teach me to be strong and clear. And hopefully, loving.

For me, getting a dog is a spiritual experience, I am coming to realize that dogs have shaped almost every part of my life, in one way or another, all the way back to elementary school where I stood in the freezing cold and fended off some bullies to be first in line to get a puppy, Lucky, who died of distemper a few weeks after he came home with me. My father told me he had gone to a farm in the country, I never trusted my father after that very transparent lie.

I am also realizing that I have learned – sometimes the hard way – that I have a gift for it, I have learned what to look for and how to trust my feelings. An unexamined life is not worth living for me, whether it comes to love, writing, photography,  life or getting a dog.

For me, getting a dog is a matter of the heart, a process of self-examination and thought. That is what spirituality is about, after all. Every dog I have ever owned has changed my life. Julius and Stanley helped me to launch my career as an author, they accompanied me to the country, Orson led me to Bedlam Farm, Rose helped me stay there, Lenore kept love alive for me, and Frieda helped to bring Maria and I together.

Looking at this photo, taken at the first Bedlam Farm, I see love and loyalty, connection and gifts – the gift of making me a better human being, each time. That is what the right dog can do for me, for you.

Getting a dog is not an impulse for me, not a political statement, not about saving a life, although it might end up  being one or all of those things. I believe that dogs are spirit animals, that is why we love them so much, why they mean so much to us. Something that important – an animal to enter my life for years and change it – is worth thinking about, is worth honesty and self-examination.

I don’t wish to live with dogs who are obedient, I wish to live with dogs who understand how to live safely and lovingly in my world. Who will not harm other dogs or animals, who will not harm human beings. My dogs and I trust one another, safety is about trust. My dogs support my life, they do not make it more difficult or distract me from it. My dogs and I have a contract with one another that involves love and dignity, we enhance one another’s life, we do not take away from it.

It does not always work in the way in which I intended, but it always works. Poor Orson could not live in the world, Pearl found a better home in Brooklyn, Clementine has a wonderful life in Vermont.

Rose, Izzy, Lenore and Frieda led wonderful lives with me. Now Red. Red herds sheep with me, he meditates with me, rides in the car, does therapy work with me, goes to the gym with me, even the dentist. I would trust him anywhere. And I got him in the strangest way, from a stranger in Virginia. No one ever suggested I get a dog that way, and I never had.

But Dr. Karen Thompson is a spiritual person, a person of faith, and that made all the difference to me. I came to believe her when she said God wanted me to  have this dog, this border collie in need of his destiny,  and what could be more spiritual than that?

I promise to give them every opportunity to live as full a life as fate and destiny intended, and they will respect me and my work and my property. That is not an easy thing to achieve, but I have achieved it nearly a dozen times now, and so I am starting to believe in the way I choose a dog, I will not ever let anyone else tell me how to get a dog – I have in recent years with Izzy, Rose, Lenore and Frieda and Red, that is what I want. No dog can be replaced precisely, but the miracle of dogs is that they can be replaced, unlike people, and we can love them over and over and over again.

So I look inward. What do I want? What do I need? What kind of work will I do with them? How can I use them to touch the lives of other people as well as me? What can I love and why? How much time do I have, how much energy and patience? How can a dog further improve me as a human being, as every dog I have ever owned has done? Only then, when I understand and answer those questions, am I ready to get a dog and commit to a meaningful life together.

This time it is different, this will be Maria’s dog more than mine. I have a partner now, we share this passion for self-examination and thought. We talk about this often, we are on the same path. She can speak for herself. This time, something new, something different. Something that feels good.

Email SignupEmail Signup