Each Friday, we share three topical longreads in our Weekend Reader newsletter. This week, LionsRoar.com’s Lilly Greenblatt looks at the lessons our furry friends teach us. Sign up here to receive the Weekend Reader in your inbox.
In September, my heart broke. As the seasons began to change, my little 14-year-old dog, Max, passed away. Everyone — family, neighbors, friends — was sad to see him go.
Max and I grew up together, but we had a rocky start in his puppyhood. We got him when I was just an 11-year-old girl. I had begged my mom for a fluffy miniature poodle that I could name “Gigi” and adorn with a dog-sized tutu and sparkly bows. Max was a Cairn terrier — scruffy and independent with a rough, wiry coat. He didn’t want to be hugged as much as I wanted to hug him, and I could only get my teddy bear’s sweater on him if I was very lucky. But, I had to admit he was much cuter than the poodle I’d imagined. And soon enough, he even wanted to be picked up and hugged. He quickly became everybody’s best friend.
Max loved his backyard, playing with his soccer ball, and the crunchy ends of croissants. He loved his best friend Sass (a Husky five times his size), his spot on the couch, and listening to jazz radio. He hated animals on TV, broccoli stems, baths, and opera singing. Best of all, he loved me, and I loved him. And he did it all with such presence.
Animals have the incredible ability to always be in the present moment — the moment so many of us struggle to stay in. When Max played, he played, as Andrea Miller writes likewise of her own childhood dog, Raffy, in “Does My Dog Have Buddhanature?” When he howled along to my sister’s clarinet, he did just that. On his walks through the forest, he simply enjoyed his walk, keeping mindful of every smell and sound along the way.
The weekend before Max passed away, we sat in our backyard for a while. He used his dwindling strength to lick the tears that rolled down my cheeks and onto my arms around him. We were fully present together. When he died, I’m sure he had no regrets or worries of what would happen next. He was my friend until the end. He knew only love. I miss him very much.
This Weekend Reader shares three looks at the lessons we can learn from our pets, even in our goodbyes. I hope they’ll help you look at your furry friends — past and present — in a new light, or to smile a little wider at the next wagging tail you see coming down the sidewalk.
—Lilly Greenblatt, associate editor, LionsRoar.com
When Sarah Chauncey drops the label “cat,” she sees her pet clearly for the very first time.
We all long to be seen, but when humans look at each other, more often than not, there are mental constructs and conditioning that prevent us from truly seeing the other person. When a person speaks—especially in distress — we’re quick to offer advice or to try to distract them or convince them that the problem really isn’t that bad.
Animals don’t do that. They soothe us without dismissing our concerns, or telling us to stop crying, or that John really is a jerk and we’re better off without him. They show us that we are essentially loveable and whole, even when we feel our most broken.
Remembering her beloved childhood pet, Andrea Miller ponders one of Zen’s most famous questions.
Raffy did not grapple with koans. He had no need. He had already realized his true doggy nature.
My mother would dedicate Saturday afternoon to bathing him with blueing shampoo and blowing him dry. Then, almost immediately, he’d slip into the backyard where there was a lake—a cool inviting mirror of water — and he would plunge right in, ruining his freshly clean coat. Raffy lived in the moment. When chasing a ball, just chase. When barking at the TV, just bark.
And moment by moment, Raffy changed. That was his final lesson: everything is of the nature to change. Impermanence, according to the Buddha, is one of the marks of existence, and dogs don’t generally live as long as humans, so loving them is a teaching.
Laura Johnson’s eight-month-old cat died as the California wildfires destroyed nearby homes. She reflects on how her deeply personal loss opened her heart to society’s shared humanity.
We named our cat Birdy after the sweet bird-like sounds he made when he was cozy and content, which was nearly all the time. A little ball of soft gray fur with kind eyes that would blink slowly at you in friendly recognition, he exuded sweetness, joy, and gratitude. He was six months old when we adopted him from a local rescue, and he was eight months old when he died.