A Leg Up
Pancho, my three-legged Australian Shepherd, has a job. This past summer, his groomer, Roger, said to me, “You should get him certified as a therapy dog. He’s such a sweetheart that I think he’d be really good.”
We started Pet Therapy classes in September, and under the expert training of Pat Ennis, he and I both learned how to behave when we visit hospitals and nursing homes. Pancho got his diploma in mid-October, and last month, we started visiting the VA Nursing Home in St. Augustine.
I’m not sure who enjoys the arrangement more – Pancho, the veterans he visits, or me.
People tell me all the time what a good person I am for taking care of a three-legged dog. I consistently respond that I’m the fortunate one. You see, Pancho doesn’t spend a moment missing that fourth leg. He’s too busy greeting neighbors as they walk past our house, guarding Laverne from the hawks who sit on the roof eyeing her, checking to see if the pantry door is closed (our trash is his treasure), surfing the countertops for sticks of butter left too close to the edge, swimming laps in HIS pool, and visiting his friends at the VA.
He’s kind of a celebrity there. People yell his name when they see him hopping down the hall. They save bits of their lunch for him. Today, it was Christmas cookies. They leave word at the desk to wake them up if they’re sleeping when Pancho comes because they don’t want to miss him.
Learning to focus on what we have rather than on what might be missing is an important life lesson, one we humans have trouble grasping. Pancho, however, has mastered it. The source of all suffering, according to the Buddhists, is in the thought that things should be any different than they are. So today when a lady asked me how often he suffers from phantom pains, I had to tell her that this dog has never expressed anything other than absolute joy. He can sit down, lie down, stay, and shake hands, but he can’t act wounded. It’s not a part of his repertoire.
Pancho loves his job. He instinctively knows he’s here to perform a service, and he gets great pleasure in doing it. Getting paid in Chick-Fil-A waffle fries is just the icing on the stack of old bones he keeps in our yard.
But you know what he loves more? Coming home and lying on the sofa in his favorite spot, the one that gives him the perfect view of my son’s Jeep turning the corner into our alley as he gets home from school.
Philosopher Ken Wilber describes the process of searching for happiness (or enlightenment, or oneness with God, whichever you prefer) in this way: “Everything we tried to do was wrong because everything was already and eternally right” (No Boundary, 159). In his novel Siddhartha, Herman Hesse says the same thing about looking for events to change so that we can be happy: “. . . . this ‘one day’ is an illusion, it is only a metaphor” (112). A simpler way to say it is that we miss out on happiness when we go searching for it because happiness is really a function of what’s inside our heads and our hearts.
Pancho doesn’t run around searching for happiness. He innately understands that it’s in the stillness that happiness comes to us. He knows that if he waits on that sofa and watches for a red Jeep, his happiness will come to him around four o’clock every afternoon.
Even with only three legs, he’s still one leg up on all of us humans.