Minnesota's co-op op-ed page
In this week of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we are reminded that the work of making racial justice true in America is not done. Along with the work of closing gaps in education, employment, and other opportunities, our work to care for and honor our planet is not done. Nor is the work of finding our common ground across nationality and religion done.
But I am also reminded this week that for each of us individually, the work will be done someday. Our beloved dog Milo has been diagnosed with an inoperable tumor, one that has taken over his abdomen, connecting itself to his spleen, liver, and intestines. He is a Shetland sheepdog, a working dog by breed who has found his meaning in our small family. When we adopted him just over nine years ago, I chose him for his good looks (tri-colored, like my childhood dog) and gentle demeanor. He has maintained both throughout his dog life.
I have often thought that Milo would have loved to be a real working dog, herding sheep or roaming the boundaries of a farm. Instead, with us in our city home, his work has been rousing the children from bed in the mornings, barking at people walking by our corner house, and standing by to inspect the cooking. In this seemingly small work, he has created a world that I could count on and now see as part of who we are.
I am grateful for that. Milo has shown us that the work of life starts small. The lessons are large.
Love fully. Any dog owner knows the comfort of coming home to a tail-wagging, panting dog. Milo has given us what we all need most: a sense of belonging and home. “I am so happy to see you,” he seems to say with his whole being. At the edge of the day, that love carries us forward. Surely we could do better to love so fully and expressively and guide our fellow beings forward into night and new morning. Knowing what one dog can do teaches us the power of this simple act.
Just listen. As a girl, I would sit with my dog Maggie under our tree and tell her about my life. Then, my whole world was about family and friendships and school. My dog sat by and listened to all of it, or at least seemed to with her ears up, concern in her eyes. Milo has been the same constant presence. Sometimes I am alone in the house, and I find myself talking to him. I do not expect an answer or solution. I do not ask for his opinion. He just listens.
Give pleasure. Last week, we had the chance to take Milo north to Camp Menogyn, where we were meeting our son after a month long backpacking trip. We brought Milo because we knew he was sick and didn’t want to leave him and cause any additional stress. Plus, we wanted to spend all the time we could with him. Tired though he was, Milo continued his work. Every time I looked up, I found young campers sitting with him, even down on their stomachs, stroking him and looking into his eyes. At the swimming dock, Milo perked up and chased campers from the sauna right up to the edge of the dock, then worked to herd them back in. He befriended a group of Somali women there for a retreat. They were learning to swim and found that Milo would play with the water they splashed. Although dogs are not usually a part of Somali homes, Milo found a way to connect. He spent hours doing the same with a teenaged girl. When it was time to leave, she had her mother take a photo of her with him, then wrapped her arms around him saying “I love you, Milo.”
Notice everything. The smell of grass, the sound of a wagon, the way the wind blows a scent from across the alley. Lately, because Milo has a hard time walking, we bring the old Burley bike trailer along for our walks. When he gets tired, we lift him into the Burley. He doesn’t seem to mind, even looks a bit relieved. Pushing the cart along, I watch Milo turning his head, moving his velvety ears, wriggling his black nose. Even now, towards the end, Milo is paying attention to every bit of the world around him. What if we all did that more and better – really listened and saw and smelled? Might we put a real dent in the work we still have to respect each other, treat our planet well, love the world around us?
On Sunday, Katherine Kersten wrote in the Star Tribune Opinion pages of her concern that we are loving dogs too much, and that this is a sign of the demise of our humanity. I disagree with her. I believe that dogs, and many other living beings, human and nonhuman, can teach us some deep lessons about the world we share. We must, of course, be open to learning them.
Milo’s work in the world has been to bring others together. Accept each other, be interested in another. Know our neighbors, love this world. Milo, your work is nearly done, and I am forever thankful for all of it and all of you.