Each day I watch my three little shih-tzu dogs bound through the door into the snowy back garden. On the left hand side of my garden is one mountain of snow, a peak that rises to the level of my kitchen window. Every morning the dogs look at the mountain of snow and nuzzle each other’s noses, perhaps saying to one another “Look, look at this mountain…is there any way we can climb to the top?” One by one each dog takes a turn at climbing to the top, but each successive attempt is met by failure. Those of the faint- hearted would surely have given up….but not my three little dogs. They believed they would find a way to reach the top.

The three dogs range in size. Elsie, who is the oldest, portrays herself as a mother hen. Her word is sacred to the others. Elsie sets the rules and the daily schedules. Freddie is the male dog. He prides himself on being a security guard, and a master-at-arms. The baby of the three is Phoebe…the smallest physically but her determination is fearless. As each one took their turn at trying to conquer the mountain of snow, it was little fearless Phoebe who battled the ice and dug in her toenails to conquer the mountain. As I watched, Phoebe stood on top of the mountain, letting the wind blow through her hair, like an explorer who has succeeded at their goal. What a sight indeed! Freddie and Elsie looked at each other and said perhaps “We will have none of this….we are being upstaged by this pip-squeak!” Suddenly Freddie headed up the mountain, coached and encouraged by Phoebe at the top, and lo and behold, Freddie too reached the summit. As you can imagine, eventually Elsie too made the pilgrimage to the top. As I observed through my window at my three dogs, feeling like true successes, they looked in at me, for me to notice and acknowledge what they had done. I guess to them the world looked very different from the height they had they risen to. But the pride and joy that I saw in their eyes was priceless.

Why is this important? Because in this case it was the smallest and most fragile dog who made it to the top first. But instead of gloating and telling the other two to go back, she encouraged their climb to her level. Yes, I know Phoebe loves her other two siblings, but maybe she understands that what good would be the climb if it could not be shared by all? I know many of you out there have pets of your own…and I know you too understand what I’m talking about. What we learn from our animals every day in many cases we carry over into our own lives. The intelligence of these creatures is sometimes mind-boggling. It’s truly understandable why these creatures are called “man’s best friend.” Others, too, receive equal rewards from cats, birds, fish, etc. Pets can teach us things about our own humanity. We don’t have to be the strongest, or greatest, to rise to the top and spread a little joy around.

Spread some joy,

Jennifer Avalon
© 1999 Jennifer Avalon

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