This week, my family marked a major milestone. We celebrated the birthday of the most mature living male Spiro. I say “we” celebrated it, but he clearly didn’t. For him, Wednesday the 19th was just like any other day. He got up, went to the backyard, urinated and defecated on the grass, came inside, ate a piece of cheese with a liver flavored supplement for his rickety joints, then walked around the kitchen for a few minutes until he finally went into his crate, where he spent much of the day. He surely would have rubbed his face against my hand a few times, and did the same to my wife or daughter. He also probably licked one or more of us, and looked our way with the sweetest, most innocent smile you can imagine. But he wouldn’t have understood the meaning of a “birthday.” He wouldn’t have understood the significance of being a 17 year-old dog. And he wouldn’t have understood a reason to call attention to himself. That’s not what he does. That’s not what he has ever done. He eats. He sleeps. And he gives love to others. That’s his life.
Kirby Puckett Spiro has always been a sweetheart. He’s had his melancholy moments, but he has never been mean. Oh, there was once or twice when he growled when you tried to take a bone from his mouth, but that’s once or twice in 17 years. He isn’t even that much of a barker, unless he’s playing with other dogs, something he no longer does. I’ll never forget how years ago, one of my daughter’s friends who was staying at my house called her mother in the middle of the night and was picked up – without our even knowing this happened. Did Kirby bark when the mother entered the house in the middle of the night? No. He probably just smiled. Kirby would have made the world’s worst guard dog. Like I said, he doesn’t “guard.” He gives love, he eats and he sleeps. Full stop.
Back in the day, Kirby was quite the athlete. He would run around back and forth with incredible quickness. Dog trainers refer to that behavior as “blitzing.” He would sometimes play with a soccer ball, and bounce it into the air with his nose. He used to love to go on long walks and explore different places. In fact, he once escaped from us and ran unchecked around some very busy streets in Philadelphia. Amazingly, he wasn’t struck by a car, and we were able to trap him. That was the closest he’s ever come to dying – closer even than when he got into some mouse poison and had to have his stomach pumped. I’ll never forget waiting at the vet that night. Another dog was being attended to after being mauled by a pit bull. Kirby is a bichon. Bichons don’t maul anyone or anything, at least not Kirby. He literally wouldn’t hurt a fly.
I like to think of Kirby as relatively happy. But he wasn’t always so. When he was about four, he tore the ACL in one of his knees. We treated it by keeping him in his crate. That wasn’t the problem – the problem was that it was at that time, quite coincidentally, that we picked up a puppy (another bichon). We got Carly in order to keep Kirby company during the day, but he couldn’t have understood that. He presumably would have thought that we got Carly because we wanted or needed a functional dog, and poor Kirby needed to rehab his knee all day. For the 11 years of Carly’s life, she treated him like a subordinate, and Kirby always deferred. Then, when cancer claimed Carly, he mourned. Boy did he mourn. So did we all. Carly was a ton of fun, but she could also be a handful. Not Kirby.
If you turn on the local news – or nowadays, ANY kind of news – all you hear about is how awfully people behave. You’ll hear about craven politicians, homicidal maniacs, punkish athletes, narcissistic musicians. Blah, blah, blah. But when I think about our sweet little dog, I’m reminded that there is a whole world of beauty out there that isn’t covered by the media. With Kirby as my inspiration, I walked outside onto my nearly screened in porch and found a bird’s nest. We have not one but two adult birds taking care of it. One stays in the nest, and the other comes to bring food. When he (or is it “she”) arrives, the little birds make a ton of noise, and this pattern goes on, frequently, throughout the course of the day.
Whether you’re talking about Kirby or the wild birds that live on our back porch, you may not be talking about “rationalists,” but these animals sure are empathic. We can talk all we want about how ultimately selfish they are, but their behavior sure appears to manifest giving, giving and more giving. In Kirby’s case, he gives love to “his people.” In the case of the adult birds, they give sustenance to their babies, and give beautiful noises to any human being who comes close to my backyard.
I’m sure next week, I’ll be back to talking about all the trials and tribulations of the human world. But today, for a moment, please join me in rejoicing that there actually is a whole lot more to this world than humans. Perhaps, we can learn a bit from these animals. Who knows? They might have a tad more to teach us than even cable news.