by Rabbi Rami Shapiro:I have three great loves in my life: dogs, books, and a handful of people. In that order.
Yes, I admit it: I love dogs more than books. You might be surprised by this since there are far more books in my life than dogs, but the truth is dogs are more demanding than books and I can only handle one or two at a time whereas I am reading (or at least skimming) half a dozen books or more on any given day.
The shelves of my twelve hundred square foot bungalow are crammed with books, but only three dogs; and two of them are in urns. And the floors are free of books while one dog lays claim to them all.
[My dog] doesn’t love me because she is mine, she loves me because I am hers.
Some people have told me that I love my dog because my dog loves me. But that isn’t true. I think my dog loves anyone who feeds her, plays with her, walks with her, and does whatever it is she demands of them at the moment. She doesn’t love me because she is mine, she loves me because I am hers.
I love all dogs. My emotional response upon seeing a dog is what other people feel when seeing a baby. When I see a baby, I smile but only for as long as it takes to imagine the baby growing up to be a gun-wielding terrorist. Though I know this to be absurd, I also know the history of humankind and its addiction to viciousness. When I see a dog, I smile for as long as the dog is in sight. Even if the dog seems vicious. Though I know the history of dogs and Jewish people and dogs and Black people, you have to train a dog to be vicious; with people, all it takes is religion, politics, Facebook, or Twitter.
You have to train a dog to be vicious. For humans, all it takes is religion, politics, or social media. Dogs are the ultimate Zen practitioners.
I have a friend, Rich, who has a passion for Hebrew wordplay. The reason dog lovers love dogs, Rich says, is because in Hebrew “dog” is kelev which is a play on the words kol lev, “all heart.” While Rich is technically wrong, he is emotionally right. At least when it comes to dog lovers like me.
When it comes to spirituality and dogs, some people are quick to say dogs are the ultimate practitioners of “be here now” and that is why people like me are drawn to them. Perhaps. Certainly, the dogs I know are Zen practitioners: eating when hungry, sleeping when tired, and never wobbling, but that isn’t what moves me. What moves me is their capacity to listen.
Before COVID and during, I spend most of my time alone with my dog. Most of our time together is spent with me sitting at my desk typing or sitting in my chair reading while she sleeps with her head on my feet. But some of our time together is spent with me laying on the floor with my head on her back the way Charlie Brown sometimes leans against Snoopy. These are moments when I share my deepest secrets and darkest fears. These are moments when words yield to silence and sometimes the silence yields to tears. This is why I love my dog: she is willing to listen without judging me or fixing me or offering me any advice. Her comfort and solace are in her very being. And that is more than enough.