This dog has made all of the difference in my life. Today, I read this article in New York magazine about The Rise of Dog Identity Politics and it made me think about how I identify myself has changed since Knightley came into my life over a year ago. While some people think that “becoming a dog person” means that you become overly focused on a non-human creature that spends most of its time sleeping, eating, pooping, barking, and wagging its tail and that you check out on human interaction, I have found that the opposite is true. Knightley has made me a better person. He has made me a nicer person for humans to be around. I view myself as a dog person who for the past several years had a void in her life because she lacked a canine companion. Now that I have one, I feel like a more complete human being. That may sound silly, but for a whole host of reasons, I will detail how Knightley has made me a better person.
1. He has made me a better neighbor. Before I had Knightley in my life, I pretty much was oblivious to the people who lived in close proximity to me unless we had some other connection. Knightley is a friendly dog who loves meeting people, the exact opposite of me without him. When we go out on walks, he wants to greet every person he passes (and every dog that he passes, even the ones that growl at him). Therefore, I end up meeting many of them. It turns out that I can make small talk with strangers in those rare instances where my dog is involved. But it is more than that. Walking with Knightley has made me care more about my neighborhood and appreciate it more. We notice things things about it (Knightley mostly the individual smells of places, and for me, I mostly notice the looks of things and the people) that I wouldn’t notice. It makes me care more.
2. A walk with Knightley instantly releases my stress in a way nothing else ever has. Every day, barring a torrential downpour or subfreezing temperatures, when I come home from work in the afternoon, Knightley and I take an hour long walk meandering through Capitol Hill. Some days we walk to the Capitol itself. Other days, we head over to Eastern Market. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what the destination is, all the matters is that we are outside walking together. Whatever might have been stressing me out that day is instantly forgotten.
3. Forget about a walk with Knightley easing my stress, seeing him the moment I come home from work relieves my stress. Knightley is always excited to see me. When I look at him, instant happiness. (See how well Knightley must be doing with calming me down? It is the middle of college basketball season, North Carolina is in the midst of its worst season since Roy Williams arrived in Chapel Hill, and I am okay.)
4. He makes me less materialistic. Having a dog, one realizes that most things in life have a limited shelf life. When Knightley was a puppy, he tore holes in my expensive skirts and favorite jeans. He chewed up my reading glasses. As I sit here typing this right now, he has attempted to chew up my diploma from the University of Washington (perhaps his way of telling me that MLIS degree was ridiculous). But I don’t really care about these things. Before I had Knightley, I spent loads of money on clothing and shoes. Last year, my greatest expense of my disposable income was spent on vet bills, toys for Knightley and his treats. I don’t mind that my wardrobe is more limited than it once was. A healthy dog is reward enough for curbing my selfish spending.
5. Knightley makes me more empathetic. This is discussed in the article, but I believe it is true. Having a little living creature in my life that cannot articulate when he is sad or when he feels pain gives me the opportunity to try to gauge for myself his feelings and reactions to things. This carries over to people. I am more perceptive about the emotions of other people because I love a dog who cannot tell me how he feels.
6. Knightley helps me understand and prepare for death better. This may sound a bit morose, but because I love a dog, I think about death. The fact of life is that dogs don’t live as long as people do, and so as Knightley ages, I think about how that is one day less that I will have to spend with him. I think about the other dog that I love so much, my Mom’s dog Ralphe and how sick he is and it makes me sad. But, because we know that our time with these animals is so limited, we treat them better and we don’t take them for granted. I know I don’t. Every time I see Ralphe, I get sad, thinking it might be the last time that I see him, because I am unable to see him that frequently. So, it makes me want to maximize the time that I am with him, because he gives so much love to the people he is with and deserves it in return. That recognition with animals carries over to the people I love, recognizing that time goes faster than any of us want it to.
7. Knightley makes me believe that I could be a good mother. Perhaps this is too personal, but before Knightley came into my life, I had serious doubts that I could ever successfully nurture another human being. Sure, training a dog isn’t the equivalent of raising a child, but Knightley has taught me that I am capable of doing it. I can’t really explain it in terms other than that without getting way too personal.
8. Knightley teaches me to be loyal and to love unconditionally. When I am home, Knightley follows me everywhere I go. When I am cross, he forgives me immediately. He licks my tears when I cry and sits next to me on the couch when I am depressed and lacking in motivation. Human beings are complex creatures and have many moods, and I am no exception. But in spite of myself, Knightley always is there for me and never leaves my side. When he is with me, he reminds me that I need to be as quick to forgive and as loyal to those who I care about. Not only that, but he loves all people, not just the ones in his immediate family and social circle. He doesn’t know or understand that people can be mean and so he gives everyone a chance. Sure, one of his favorite bathroom spots may be the lawn in front of the Heritage Foundation’s building, but he never dislikes people based on their political preferences. He is altogether immune from the artificial divisions and the us versus them politics that permeates American life. Every day, I hope that I can become a little more like that.