4 Lessons in Living from Man’s Best Friend

This article originally appeared on No Sidebar.

Two years ago, my family expanded.

It started innocently enough: browsing profiles on Petfinder, swooning over portraits of 4-legged playmates that dared me to say no. Nothing softens the heart so much as being met with an expression of wide-eyed wonderment and a wagging tail.

I’d wanted a puppy for a long time, but circumstances had always prevented it: my apartment wasn’t dog-friendly or I was worried about the accompanying expenses. I volunteered at the local animal shelter, took care of family and friends’ companions like they were my own, and patiently waited for my turn to come.

A few years, and several homes and jobs later, I found her: 5 pounds, perky ears, amber eyes, and a soft gaze that made all my troubles disappear.

The runt of the litter, she was described as sweet and affectionate, and well-versed in defending herself against siblings twice her size. Having viewed dozens of profiles in recent weeks, I knew my search was over. I’d always had a soft spot for the most vulnerable, seeing something of myself in their perseverance. Determined to bring her home, I applied right away, made a deposit, and held my breath until I was approved.

My sister, a fellow dog owner and long-time proponent of my expanding my fur family, surprised me with a welcome kit in the mail: a leash and collar, a bed, a sock monkey that squeaked, and a bag of food that far outweighed my soon-to-be companion. Each time I walked past the once-empty coat hook that now held her new accessories, I could barely contain my excitement.

I counted down the weeks to her homecoming and prepared my solo cat of 14 years as best I could. I pored over plushies, chew toys, and tennis balls, and researched the highest-rated. Like I do most new endeavors, I approached this one with unwavering commitment and great devotion.

Nothing could have prepared me for the joy I felt upon first meeting Lyla, nor the immeasurable light and laughter she’s brought to my life since. It’s hard to remember my days before her as she’s become such an integral part of them.

I wake up to her playful pounces and come home to her eager face perched upon the windowsill. I’ve learned more from her about what it means to be present, resilient, and appreciative than I could have imagined, and continue to grow from her gentle way of moving through the world. In a sense, she’s taught me what it means to be human.

We can learn so much from our pets simply by observing them and allowing ourselves to be open to what they have to show us. Here are a few takeaways my time with Lyla has afforded:

1. Find contentment with what you have.

Before Lyla came home, I filled her bed with toys, many of which she took months to grow into. They’ve since all been retired, victims of hours of chewing, and hundreds of squeaks, throws, and tug-of-war episodes. I now keep one or two toys for Lyla at a time and don’t rush out to replace them. She reminds me that the sense of fulfillment brought about by material goods is fleeting and that their value does not compare with that derived from our relationships and leisure time.

2. Dwell in the present.

Our pets don’t think in yesterdays or tomorrows, ruminating on the past, or fretting about the future. They are supreme models of what it means to live in the here and now. I love watching Lyla roll in the grass and chase fireflies, greet other dogs and new humans. Her curiosity drives her and her senses guide her. Witnessing her playful spirit is a reminder of the joy to be sought simply from tuning into each moment as it unfolds.

3. Practice patience.

When things don’t go our way, it’s easy to become discouraged or give up hope altogether. But being around Lyla reminds me that our troubles are only temporary and that we have the freedom to choose how we respond to them. Her good-naturedness is contagious and helps me recognize that our struggles need not define us.

4. Embrace the unknown.

Like most dogs, Lyla loves exploring different routes and chasing new scents. The unfamiliar intrigues her, and she’s not afraid to get a closer look. Though far from fearless, she shows an openness to explore that I admire. The unknown can be frightening, particularly when it threatens our sense of safety and security. But it can also be exciting and rewarding, if we allow ourselves to welcome it in, instead of running from it.