Things I have stopped ‘being’ include, in no particular order of importance: a banker, overweight, a golfer, irresponsible, a problem gambler, self interested, a practicing alcoholic and wealthy. Hey Ho, I don’t miss any of them. The only other thing I have stopped being is a ‘dog owner’ and I really do miss my faithful border collie, even after so many years.
Being a dog owner gives you regular exercise, new friends and hairs on your upholstery (none of which you will find around the average banker, but that’s enough banker bashing). Being a dog owner also gives you spirituality.
Let me explain. Spirituality provides a meaning to life: it gives an awareness of oneself and a caring regard for others; it takes you out of the centre of the universe and gives you a rightful place amongst equals. I am not surprised to discover that the great majority of those at my local AA meeting — far and away the most spiritual people I know — are dog lovers and most are dog owners. In AA we talk about spirituality a lot. The word ‘God’ appears a lot too, though we usually say ‘Higher Power’ because there are many in AA who don’t believe in a God of any recognised religion.
For those of us in AA, a Higher Power is what we turn to for help and guidance in recovery from addiction, and it can therefore take many forms. For an atheist it can be his local AA group, for a Christian it can be Jesus Christ, for an agnostic it can simply be a power for good in the world. One thing is for sure though: you want your Higher Power to be the most powerful thing around. Talking about spirituality may seem freaky to some people but discovering their spiritual side is for most people an exciting and life enhancing experience.
So how do dogs come into it? Well, dogs provide a focus of attention outside ourselves; they give unconditional love at all times, they are non judgemental, honest in displaying their emotions, loyal and forgiving. Pretty handy qualities, I would say.
But can a dog help you in the way that a Higher Power can? Not directly perhaps, and you wouldn’t expect to pray to a dog, or to make a dog your higher power (unless you are an ancient Egyptian). To me, a dog provides a different kind of power — the power of example. When I see a dog showing love, feeling happy or being honest, it truly raises my spirits. That power of example has a huge influence on others. Dogs are simpler creatures than us, but they are closer to nature and the power for good that most people believe exists in the world. They are not only man’s best friends, but also agents of man’s Higher Power.
Many people in the world today have had the spirit drained out of them – life in the 21st century can do that to you. A dog can help to put the spirit back. My daughter Annabel, another big time dog lover, and spiritual down to her socks, has a bumper sticker that runs: “Lord help me to be the person my dog thinks I am”. Live up to your dog and you live up to your Higher Power.