Dogs Can Teach Us How to Live

Miss Dot, half-awake on Amy's lap.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love dogs. My current dog, pictured here half-awake in my lap, is a very small Boston Terrier named Miss Dot, who serves as my writing companion when she isn’t busy telling me what to do.To me, a house does not feel like a home without a dog. When I was born I was brought home from the hospital to a household already inhabited by three older siblings – two brothers and a sister – as well as a dog named Heidi.

Heidi, a Standard Schnauzer, pre-dated all of the children. My dad had given her to my mom as a Christmas present the first year they were married.

By the time I came along, Heidi was edging toward senior citizen status. When I was three or four, I would throw my arms around her and hug her with all my might. Poor Heidi would groan loudly, get up, and move away from me, and my mom would call to me from the kitchen: “Amy, are you loving Heidi too hard?”

And so I learned the importance of being gentle and kind.

The notorious Gretchen a.k.a. Grinch, beloved dog of Amy Hill Hearth (with blond hair at right).

After Heidi, we got another Standard Schnauzer, but she wasn’t at all like sweet old Heidi. Her name was Gretchen and she had the heart of a mountain lion. (In this photo of Gretchen, I’m at right.) She got into all sorts of trouble of the skunk, dead-fish, and porcupine variety, but of course we loved her anyway. As it turned out, Gretchen (we mostly called her Grinch) was the perfect dog when we moved to Columbia, South Carolina when I was six. I was a tomboy, always outdoors, which was where Gretchen a.k.a. Grinch preferred to spend her time, too. Wherever I went, she was nearby, although she was nearly impossible to catch if she didn’t feel like being caught. From Grinch, I learned that some beings are simply untamable. No matter how much you love them, and even if they love you back, they are meant to be free.After Grinch, there was a long (sad) canine-free hiatus in my life. I wanted my own dog when I was in college and starting my career, but I didn’t have the time, space, or money. Even after I got married, it was a while before we had a house with a yard, and money to spare for a veterinarian and the other expenses which come with owning a dog.

By the mid-1990s, my husband and I finally had our act together and began researching what type of dog we wanted to get. We settled on a Boston Terrier, and at Christmas 1996, my husband gave me the most wonderful present: a Bostie puppy we named Wilma. She was an absolute delight – hilarious, as that breed tends to be, sweet-natured, playful, and very affectionate. She approached every day and every person with delight. From Wilma, I learned a lesson about unfettered joy.

Amy with her puppy, Wilma, Christmas 1996.

After we lost Wilma, we decided, in her memory, that we would adopt a Boston Terrier that needed a home. We found Dot, a seven-pound (very tiny) Bostie who had medical issues that would require devoted parenting. Dot (or Miss Dot, as we often call her) was a year and a half old when we brought her home from A Forever Home Rescue Foundation in Chantilly, Virginia. She has blossomed from a shy critter who hid her food to a foot-stomping mini-canine nicknamed Miss Bossypants, due to her desire to run our lives and household.

Miss Dot with her pink ball.

From Miss Dot, I received a lesson in the value of second chances.

This, I believe, is why we love dogs. They aren’t just a part of our lives. They teach us to be better humans.

(Photos copyright Amy Hill Hearth)


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Filed under family life, Remembrances, The Writing Life

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