Dog Therapy

My dog Calloway and I tromp along our usual route to the dog beach, me stopping to count the monarch butterflies just arriving, and Cal stopping to sniff nearly every bush on the way. Lighthouse Field has more crows than people and Indian summer seems to be longer this year than ever. The breeze is warm, the leaves golden, the afternoon lazy.

It's Saturday and the beach is filled with dogs zipping up and down the sand, stopping to sniff seaweed and other dogs, owners trying to keep up with their furry friends. Every kind of dog is here, from pit bulls to terriers, labs to poodles, with lots of barking and yapping and tail wagging. We have a certain route, up to the arch on the right, and if the tide is low enough (which it isn't today) we cross under the rock to a curve of tiny hidden beach that we both especially love. Today we stop just short of the arch and have to turn around. Calloway loves to run into the surf and lap and bite at the frothy waves, running quickly back to the sand if a wave is too large.

We head the other way, down to the cliffs where some folks climb and jump off into the water. Two guys are skim boarding and as we walk by I realize one looks familiar. He has a long beard, which is new, but it is someone who used to be a part of my family, and is no more. I find my heart pounding and have to stop and take a breath. Seeing him has affected not only my breathing but my attitude. Suddenly, I am feeling anxious, almost panicky and sad at the same time. This was someone I've loved and now we are estranged. This isn't my choice, and I've been trying to accept the situation as it is, "accepting the things I cannot change."

I sit on a ledge of cliff and feel my feelings, yet can't help noticing Calloway leaping into the water, then emerging to shake himself vigorously. It dawns on me that I need to get up and run with him into the water, shaking off my sadness, shaking off the past, shaking off what is out of my control. I start laughing, and Calloway knows this is the signal to begin to play, chasing me and jumping up, wrapping his legs around mine and pretending to bite. Then I look around and see dogs playing tag, running in circles, tearing down the beach, fully engaged in having fun, being carefree and enjoying every nano second of their day. Watching them I decide to do the same, racing Cal down the sand, plunging into the cold water with him, falling down and letting him lick my face and crawl all over me. Other dogs want to join the pile-up but I rise and keep moving with the energy of joy.

Here on the beach on a Saturday afternoon, I find all the therapy I need, all the lessons and modeling of how to best live one's life, and I find this therapy from dogs, my dog Calloway in particular, but all dogs in general. I've read all the books about living in the now, about being fully conscious and present; I've spent years taking courses, meditating, getting advanced degrees in psychology, seeing my own therapists, spending tens of thousands of dollars, when all I need is a beach, my dog, and the humility to realize I am the student. Dogs are the teachers.

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