This morning, through it was raining, I had in mind to head off on one of the long forest walks I often do but to take a different path to usual. With the new splurge of energy and good health I seem to be enjoying, and encouraged along by the new pair of trail shoes I just bought which, like the running version of the legendary ‘red shoes’, seem to make me want to run as soon as I’m in them, I have been enjoying some fairly energetic ‘walks’ this week that are actually more of a cross-event of brisk walk, jog and occasional sprint. The forest is particularly well suited to this, having long sandy pathways that stretch on as far as the eye can see but, having been there just yesterday, following a particular circuit that has become my norm, I decided to plan a different route to make it more interesting.
As I started to get ready to go out, I began to visualise in my head the other two options I had in mind. Both alternate routes fork off the main route that I usually take, at a T-junction, quite close to where I park my car.
Now, he’s known to be impatient for his walks but Rudi, my Rhodesian Ridgeback, suddenly became much more feisty than usual about wanting to head out as soon as possible; even set about plaintively whining at the bottom of the stairs as I got dressed into my shorts, which is something he seldom does unless we’re really late going out (which we weren’t).
When we got to the woods, being his usual twenty paces ahead of me (and with me still undecided which of three routes I was going to take), he broke the habit of a lifetime and turned sharply left to take one of the two alternatives I was considering. “Oh, OK, decision made” I thought, and we headed off that way.
This might not have been so attention grabbing had he not then turned a sudden corner into the other alternate route, just as we were approaching the car and, as if to insist he was expecting to do this whole other variation on our route as well as the one we’d just done, he stood there pointing the way (as he does when he’s quite determined) and refused to move until I called him in the no-nonsense “come here” voice I reserve for special occasions. Seems he was somehow “onto” both of the alternative routes I had visualised in my head earlier that morning and had come out expecting to do them both on one day!
This isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, time that my dog has proved himself to be telepathic! He always knows when he’s going to the dog sitter’s or the vet’s, for instance, even when we keep all conversation about these topics well out of ear-shot; in fact he can even tell when I’ve sent a text message to the sitter. He knows if I’m planning to go out somewhere, especially if its in the evening, adopting a glum face and hang-dog posture for hours beforehand without me giving him the faintest clue that anything is happening. I only have to think “this dish could do with some grated cheese on the top” and he’s by my side before I’ve even reached into the fridge drawer!
There have been many more far more profound times that he has seemed to know exactly what’s going on with me too; always knows when I’m worried or sad or even just feeling a little under the weather and will glue himself to my side, head on my lap.
The same went for my last dog Buster, also a Ridgeback, who saw me through some of the toughest years of my life. A book I’m currently reading, and enjoying very much, has got me into thinking through my relationship with both my dogs even more than I usually do and has sparked some profound realisations. Entitled “Some Dogs Are Angels“, its written by a guy who, without any background in “spiritual pursuits” and with a successful career that was unlikely to benefit from him admitting such a thing to his clients (though he came to realise how this skill had long been the source of his most inspired moments in a business-context), began channelling Archangel Michael and coming to realise that some of his ever-growing pack of dogs were avatars.
I won’t dissect the book here but will heartily recommend it to anyone enjoying a relationship with one or more doggy family-members; it has opened up a whole lot of new thought processes and understandings for me, even as someone who has long accepted the ambassadorial (from our highest self) ~ guardianship ~ catalytic roles of our four-legged friends. They quite literally, through being here, help to make things happen that serve our highest purpose; often taking the physical and emotional knocks upon themselves in the process.
In fact, I’ve long regarded super-tuned-in and oh-so-gentle-giant Rudi as a sort of four-legged angel in our midst and yet what the book got me thinking about was how the angel dogs we live with may not be the physical or even behavioural epitome of angelic-ness that we might expect them to be and that, in many ways, it was Buster who had been there like a strong angelic presence just when I most needed him. Shorter and squatter than oh-so handsome Rudi, with a mood as grizzled as his ever-whitening muzzle in the later years of his life, he stood by me during years that felt hellish and dark; and when all else crashed around me, the long evenings curled up with him by the fireside and with my head snuggled against his broad doggy chest became the grounding point that kept me going day after day. No surprise in hindsight, his back legs gave way in the end; the metaphorical burden he took on as my soul-supporter playing itself out as the physical challenge that became all too much for him a week after his twelfth birthday. It struck me anew, as I thought about this on my walk the other day, that he had hung on to life with the incredible pain of this hip issue for several years, on medication, succumbing only (and suddenly) at the point when he felt I could be safely left to continue on without him, not leaving my side a moment sooner than he felt he could. Circumstantially, he saw in the year when everything started to come right for me and then, knowing I had been delivered to dry land, decided he was free to transition and so he did, letting go of the determined grip he had kept on life for both me and my daughter, who had had him beside her all of her life and wept a river when he left. We all did!
It also struck me that my memory of how Buster looked had faded so much that, when I see his photos now, I find myself almost thinking “that isn’t him…is it?” This had almost started to make me feel guilty until, it struck me, what I was left with was an essence of Buster…I can still summon up the feeling of Buster far more readily than I can summon up his physical appearance. In short, I remain in touch with his true essence…and always will.
Rudi came into our lives with a synchronistic perfection that tells me he is also a true “meant to be” member of this family. Buster had transitioned just the night before and, having come downstairs to that awful empty spot where his bed had once been and returned home just once to the empty void where there had always been a wagging tail thumping against door frames, I only made it as far as mid-morning before I started to google ridgeback rescue and breeder sites. I went to one website purely because this woman, who I had met many years ago on the dog-show circuit, was an authority on the breed…and there were Rudi’s button eyes staring back at me. Two months old, his prospective owners had got cold feet and only just decided not to have him so he was newly in search of a good home. Within hours, I was in this woman’s garden with Rudi snuggled on my lap and so was forged a bond that will outlast the both of our lifetimes.
Yet, a very different energy to Buster, I see with sudden clarity how Rudi brought a whole new ingredient into our home, to suit the very different circumstances that we now live in. Physical protection is not in his remit, though I have no doubt he would rise to the occasion if called upon. Actually, as the most super-sensitive being himself, what he does is balance us all. I see how, from his earliest days in this household, he helped us all to curb our tensions and our bad-temperedness and our out-of-proportion feelings of overwhelment because we quickly came to see how he would pick up on our fears and our flights of emotion and take them even more seriously than we had ever intended, becoming upset on our behalf. Sure enough, before long, we had all learned to stop and take pause and, in that time, frayed tempers would dissipate, raised voices would lower, our sense of proportion (or humour) would be allowed to return and all would become calm again. These days, you would be hard-pushed to find a more chilled out family; we simply don’t have those drama-fueling rages and upsets that we used to but, rather, are softly spoken, kind, respectful and loving towards each other (teenagers included) – and so very “in-proportion” about things – and I see how Rudi has played a key part in that great new vibe that has become a way of life in our household.
I also see how he plays the oh-so important role of getting me to pause and “just be” at regular intervals throughout the day, something that I still need the occasional reminder about, even though I’m far (far) better at living in the present moment than I ever used to be. Even then, when the urge to leap straight from the dinner table to my laptop to finish this or that tries to take me over, I invariably find that Rudi has other ideas…and will speak to me persistently and in no uncertain terms (in a voice that sounds just like Scooby Doo…) until I come and sit with him for a long and languorous cuddle.
I’ve yet to finish “Some Dogs Are Angels”, though I find I’ve returned to reading with all-new relish since discovering it and I do heartily recommend it for an extremely grounded and hugely insightful view of the roles our dogs play in our lives. As for mine, he’s snoring contentedly after his long rainy walk…a familiar soundtrack to a life spent working at home with my wonderful long-legged doggy soul-mate for company…and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
My recommended book of the moment:
Some Dogs Are Angels – Mark Starmer