I think compassion, if it is describing something real, is not so much a quality people have as it is a behavior that they sometimes exhibit and desperately need to turn into a habit. I have learned this best, I believe, in my relationship with the family dog. Dogs do have a natural empathy and loving strength of character that you learn about when a dog owns you and decides she is willing to keep you around for giggles and kibble.
This dog came to us in the late evening one spring night. We were coming home from religious services, and we had to stop the van because there was a puppy directly in the road ahead. She just showed up in the headlights, all big head and big belly, not really capable of taking care of herself, or even keeping herself from getting run over by the very next car that came along. She couldn’t have been more than a month old, still a little unsteady when she walked. She had a collar and a name tag, along with shot tags. We figured someone had accidentally let her get out of the house to wander and probably wanted her back. Well, we were wrong. The animal shelter was willing to take her, but that meant the risk that, if no one claimed her, she would be euthanized with all the other strays. She was too cute and instantly-attached-to-us to run the risk of that happening. The name and vet tags gave us no leads. We didn’t have the names of either owners or the vet who gave her the shots. She had become ours by default. I now suspect that she got out of her cage at the nearby Petco and the employees who lost her immediately wrote her off as deceased. No employee ever came looking, and, of course, when asked no one knew anything about it.
Of course, kids love dogs and always believe they should have one, so no amount of warning about the consequences would dissuade them. So, in the first few months we had her, she totally decorated the carpets in the house with dark brown and yellow-brown stains. The kids wondered, “How did that get there?” and when I showed them how to clean up and house-train the dog (supposed to be their duty… ended up mine), they all three said, “Eeuuww!”
The next winter, the dog killed all our parakeets. It’s not what you think. She didn’t eat them or anything. But wintering in the garage because of Mom’s reaction to new carpet patterns was something the dog really didn’t like. So she scratched her way to freedom through the garage door. And she chose a bitter cold January day to do it. So, the birds froze to death. The dog, in her fur coat and newly free of the garage prison, was insanely happy.
So you have to learn to make sacrifices to be owned by a dog. But there are benefits, too. I am a grumpy old man now with numerous health problems. But the dog gets me out three or four times a day to exercise me. She pulls me along by her chain all around the park and exercises my lower back by making me constantly bend over and pick up poop. I have become an expert at working through the pain to swoop up poop in an old donut bag or Walmart sack. Did I ever tell you what an amazing pooper that dog is? Five times every day! Six if I take her out five times! She seems to be capable of producing triple her own weight in poop every day. I would’ve wondered how she managed so much more output than she had input, until I started noticing what things were missing from the pantry and what wrappers were stuck behind the couch.
And a dog loves you no matter what. I am the first person to feed her when we brought her into our house. so she obviously believes I am her mother. I get grumpy and cuff her on the ears for biting my fingers when I try to pet her, and she still wants to be petted (and be able to bite me) even more. I swear at her when we are walking, and she just grins at me. She believes dammitdog! is her second name. And if she doesn’t get to sleep in somebody’s bed at night she whines. That doggy bed we got for her is apparently only to be used for dragging over the top of the latest poop or pee stain. So, being owned by a dog teaches you compassion by making you practice it every single day.
Last image borrowed from the Facebook page; The Peanuts Movie