I’ve had quite a few requests to write a post on dog care for vandwellers. To be honest with you, it never occurred to me that would be of interest to you. I mean, it just seems obvious to me now, but I forget just how scared I was when Homer and I first hit the road. Would he run away? Would he be okay driving all day? Where would I find to let him out for a walk? How would we cope with the heat? After I remembered that, I knew I needed to do a post on Vandwelling dogs, so here it is. This one got too long so it will be in two parts. In this first part I deal with a lot of my personal philosophy, so I am doing it as a Sunday Sermon, the next post will be all Pet Practicalities.
Before we get into the practical issues of vandwelling dogs, let me tell you why having Homer is worth any sacrifice he requires. I am not a person who connects with others easily. I would go so far as to say for most of my life it was difficult for me. I like people, I love helping them, but I don’t really understand the whole concept of “love.” Except for blood relatives, I’m not sure I have ever “loved” anyone. But, when it comes to my dog; I know what love is! I give my whole heart to him without holding anything back! I have never made a connection like that with any person. In fact with my last girlfriend, I told her I probably couldn’t “love” her in the traditional sense, but I promised to mimic the love I had for Homer and treat her just like I treated him. Believe me; she was getting the better end of that deal! Let me tell you the four critical lessons and gifts that I believe dogs give us.
1) Touch is essential for happiness, and pets give us that. Our society practically forbids men from touching others. Most of us certainly don’t touch other men and even with our wives or girlfriends we are generally uncomfortable with it outside of sex. But when we get a dog, it is totally acceptable to pet them as much as we, want, so most of us can’t keep our hands off them; at least I know I can’t! It’s been my experience that many men are totally devastated when their dog dies. I have had more than one friend who was so upset he had to take time off work. I don’t mean to denigrate the depth of the connection between women and their pets, it is also very strong; but with men it is exceptional. Our pets meet our deep emotional need for touch that society forbids us.
2) By their deaths, pets teach us how to live. Modern life does everything possible to shelter us from death. The majority of us have never seen anyone die or picked up a dead, lifeless body (I’m sure a few of you have, but most have not). That is one of the most horrible parts of civilization–that it separates us from the act of dying and consequently the majority of us live our whole lives in terror of death. By living such short lives, our pets confront us with death. Most of us do everything we can to avoid learning the wonderful lessons they are giving us, but if we will open ourselves to them, we will have better lives because of it.
My last dog got so old that I had to put her down. I took her to the vet who administered the shot while I held her. I felt her body go soft and limp. We then took her home where I had dug a hole and I laid her down in it. I told her I had given her the best life I could and that I was sorry it was not better. To say that I was devastated by that would be a total understatement! But it was also life-changing because from that moment on I decided to live with death in mind instead of doing everything I possibly could to pretend death didn’t happen. So when I got Homer I promised him I would give him the best possible life I could. My every decision in the last 5 years has been made with Homer’s needs first and foremost. I have one goal in my life: when I lay him into the ground I can kiss and hug him one last time and say with every fiber of my being that I gave him the best possible life I could.
The miracle is, by giving him his best life; I also gave me my best life. I don’t love myself enough to make it happen, but fortunately, I loved him enough! What about you; are you living an unpleasant life but your fears keep you from changing? That means your fear is greater than your love for yourself! If you loved yourself enough, you would want you to have your best possible life and take the leap of faith.
When I needed a job, the thought of going back to work in a Big Box store was repugnant to me, but I would have done it anyway. But I couldn’t do that to Homer, I couldn’t leave him in the truck 8 hours a day. I didn’t love me enough to take good care of me, but I loved him enough to take proper care of him. So I found a job as a campground host and we were both ecstatically happy. If you can’t love yourself enough to do whatever it takes to make you happy, get a dog and totally love him and make him happy!
3) Pets teach us the utter joy of selfless living. Dogs require a lot of work! They have to be watered and fed and taken to the vet and played with and kept cool and kept warm and let in-and-out and cleaned up after they poop or have diarrhea in the van. YUCK! They can be a giant pain in the butt!! And yet to sacrifice ourselves out of love for the other is our main reason for being on earth. If we don’t do it, we will never be complete, healthy, happy human beings. Or, at least that is what I believe.
4) Pets help us live a longer, healthier, happier life. That is not just my opinion, the science is in and there is no question you will be healthier, happier and live longer if you have a pet. Here is a great presentation on their health benefits:
The bottom line for me is that there will never be a time when I don’t have a dog. Homer is approaching 10 years old and for an 80 lb dog, that is old age. He is obviously slowing down and is an old dog. I’ve actively started looking for a younger dog for him to train and to keep him young. A dog-less life is an empty life for me. In the next post we will look at the practicalities of dog ownership in the mobile life.