As I (Allen) drove to the dog park I glanced over at our black cocker spaniel Leaf quietly sitting next to me. Honestly, for a moment he looked angelic, innocent, and even sweet.
I wondered why he had barked and emitted a little growl at a woman who had walked by us that morning. I looked at him and asked, “So why did you NOT like that harmless lady who tried to pet you?”
Leaf made eye contact as I launched into my lecture. “You need to be nice and considerate to people. I want people to like you. Don’t you want to be liked?”
By now, almost a year after Linda and I had rescued him from an animal shelter, I realized that Leaf was not like most other dogs. The dogs I’d known had wagged their tails and wanted to be friends with any human. They viewed people as wonderful, amazing creatures who petted, played, and enjoyed the company of canines.
Their attitude seemed to be that dogs love people, and people love dogs. Leaf didn’t buy into that worldview. He had turned out to be pickier than the friendlier dogs of my past.
Leaf let out a big yawn that day while I continued my lecture. Frustrated, I tried to get him to understand how important it is to me for him to treat humans with respect. “Lets make a deal!” I said, sounding like the host of a television game show. “When you see someone you don’t know, do something nice, anything nice you can think of.”
Leaf looked out the window. He appeared to be oblivious to my chattering.
We arrived at the dog park, and Leaf entered with his usual gusto. He barreled through the gate and tore into the place as if he was king of the park. With his head high, walking royally, he surveyed his kingdom and all of his human and dog subjects.
I pulled out of my pocket his orange, rubber bouncy ball. He loved running after the ball, retrieving it, and bringing it back to me for another throw.
While watching me repeatedly throw the ball for Leaf, the other people at dog park commented that our cocker spaniel had more retriever instincts in him than some of the actual retriever breeds that were there. It was fun for all of us to watch Leaf run with enthusiasm on his short legs, his large ears flopping in the wind, as he chased after the ball. Sometimes I’d make the ball bounce, and he would jump up into the air, trying to catch it before it hit the ground.
This day, I noticed an older gentleman who was wearing a button-up, short sleeve shirt. He threw a yellow ball for his small, white, fluffy dog. Sometimes the dog would chase and retrieve but more often the dog would watch it land and refuse to bother playing such a juvenile game. This meant the man became the one retrieving his dog’s ball to throw again.
The gentleman looked like he was getting tired after a few throws of the ball. His dog had only consented to retrieve it a couple of times. The elderly man sat down on a wooden picnic bench to rest. At this point his dog’s ball lay on the ground a distance away.
Leaf observed the situation. After bringing his bouncy ball back to me and dropping it at my feet, he tore after the yellow ball that the man had been throwing. He grabbed it, held it in his mouth, and slowly delivered it to the tired man who still sat on the bench.
Leaf dropped the yellow ball at the man’s feet. Then he sat next to him and patiently waited for gnarled fingers to gently pat his head. When the gentlemen obliged with a grateful petting session, Leaf looked at me. I could read his thoughts with the expression on his face, “See, I can be nice to people I don’t know.”
After making sure I saw what he had done, Leaf walked tall and trotted toward me. The gentleman had a big grin on his face. He was delighted that a dog he did not know had helped him. As if Leaf were cueing him, he said, “Your dog is nice.”
By this time Leaf was back at my feet, waiting for me to throw his ball, which I did.
Somewhat confused and surprised at this event, I wondered if our dog had just wanted to prove the point that when he wanted to be nice, he could. Or had he discovered the blessings of being a nice angel dog?
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT:
When has an animal gone out of the way to be nice to you or to others?
Allen and Linda Anderson
Angel Animals Network