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Excerpt from "Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness"

What I Have Learned From My Dog

by Susan Dugan


Over the past few months the idea of getting a dog had blossomed in my mind. My daughter had begun to drive and would be a high school senior next year. College loomed. I also sensed my troubled relationship with our aging cat Daisy Mae drawing to a close. She had begun behaving like a person with Alzheimer’s; I would catch her standing at the base of our neighbor’s porch gazing upward, as if trying to figure out why someone had switched the façade on her people’s house. Although I had grown terribly allergic to her dander and long since given up on her seemingly erratic (often almost feral) ways her sudden vulnerability drew me in, along with my own need to forgive. I stood at a distance--she had always seemed more receptive to me that way--softly entreating her to come home. Semi-aware that I was not speaking literally; she seemed genuinely ready to pass on, almost transparent in the buttery autumn light. I suddenly wanted more than anything to let my grievances against this completely innocent creature go; and asked for help to do so.

When she went missing a few days later my husband and daughter insisted she had merely hidden in someone’s garage again, but I knew better. After a week had passed, we suspected she had simply crawled off somewhere to die, and hoped she had not met the more violent fate of our neighbor’s cat, recently devoured by a coyote. Over the next week, denied the closure of a proper burial, we left water and food outside the garage and inside the boiler room for our ghost cat. And then, as the image of her began to recede in our psyches like a photograph developing backwards, erasing itself, devolving into white light; we found Kayleigh.

I had been researching breeds online and become quite smitten with maltipoos (Maltese and poodle mix). Despite their embarrassing popularity among Hollywood starlets, they were extremely compact, intelligent, friendly, playful, calm, portable, and hypoallergenic. As much as I love large dogs, we needed a low-maintenance animal we could lug with us on our many weekend getaways. Maltipoos seemed perfect in every respect save the price. We could not justify dropping a couple thousand dollars on a dog. And then, browsing one night on the internet, I found an ad for a 12-week-old Maltipoo that fit our budget, placed by a family in a nearby suburb. In the picture she was stepping into a puddle of sunlight, staring directly into my eyes from underneath shaggy black-and-white waves. I emailed back asking if we could see her the next day. The following morning; the person who had placed the ad responded that he had someone else interested from up north, but would call if they decided to pass. I offered to drive over immediately and he agreed. The puppy we later renamed Kayleigh (which means “party” in Gaelic and aptly describes her celebratory personality) bolted into our arms and hearts and has never left.

Her prior family had bought her from a breeder a couple weeks earlier and grown concerned their two-year-old child might inadvertently hurt the tiny dog; hence the low price tag. And although we would soon drop a bundle as she battled giardia and other intestinal infections for several weeks after joining our family, and later experienced a serious allergic reaction to her vaccinations, her robust spirit continues to belie her initially delicate physical strength. Tonight we will together attend our first puppy training class, an event we have twice postponed because of health issues. I watch her sleeping in her little bed in my office, head resting on her cloth piggy toy, and can’t help but wonder who is really training whom as I reflect on all she has taught me about our true loving nature in our brief time together. Lessons such as:

1. I am loved, you are loved; he, she, and it are loved: Kayleigh knows loving is her only real function. Feed her; she will lick you and wag her tail. Look at her; she will lick you and wag her tail. Come home; she will lick you and wag her tail. Talk to her; she will lick you and wag her tail. And as much as your mind on ego would like to believe you are the only one for her; she will do the same thing for anyone.

2. Love sets no conditions: I do not hold Kayleigh responsible for her mistakes in the same way I hold human beings responsible. I suppose I believe she does not share the same ego-fueled human thought system that automatically assumes ulterior motives. As A Course in Miracles teaches, every other individual shares my same unconscious guilty feelings over having separated from our source and my same need to get rid of those feelings by blaming them on someone else. For whatever reason, I hold Kayleigh exempt from that hidden agenda. I always give her the benefit of the doubt. When she has an accident on the floor; I speak to her firmly, clean it up, and forget about it. I don’t get mad at her because I see past her mistake to our essential innocence.

3. Giving and receiving are the same: I tell Kayleigh I love her. I pet her, I hold her, I talk baby-talk to her, I cuddle her; I am a veritable love machine around Kayleigh; freely doling out the love I too often withhold from others for fear of rejection or indifference. We never disagree. We never argue. She never rolls her eyes at me. She never judges. I cannot fail around this dog. In the trick mirror of her eyes I am always welcome and adored. No matter what I do or say she licks me and wags her tail (see number 1).

4. It never happened: Dogs know you are upset; they just don’t know why. Like the Holy Spirit/right mind, they can see the illusion of the accident they just had on the rug, for example, they just know it’s not really a problem in truth. They will patiently wait until your ego attack passes. Then they will lick you and wag their tail (see number 1). Then you will hold them harmless (see number 2; no pun intended).

5. The value of observing ourselves: Dogs cause grown people to refer to themselves out loud in the third person as in “Bring Mama the piggy,” and “Mama loves you, yes she does; she just wishes you would do that outside instead of on the rug.” This is great training for witnessing the selves we think we are from the perspective of the decision maker in our mind that chooses between the ego’s perception of competing interests and the Holy Spirit’s interpretation of our perfect wholeness.

6. The ego is insane: Dogs know we are rarely in our right mind. When we try to cajole them to do their business outside as the thermometer hovers at minus twelve degrees they dig in their heels and wait until sanity returns and we dig out the puppy training pads again. After they do what they must do, they lick us and wag their tail (see numbers 1 and 2, no pun intended).

7. Forgiveness offers everything I want. As I look past Kayleigh’s seeming mistakes; as I hold her harmless in the light of our one mind, I am freed from the burden of my need to project. I know her tiny form in my life is not the one love beyond the dream but a mirror providing a generous glimpse of our unalterable, united perfection; only the eternal attraction of love for love. I don’t expect her to make me happy and yet through her demonstration of boundless giving, she does. Holding her to my chest outside time in the holy instant, the one love we are returns to my mind. I notice the same loving behavior toward our dog in my husband and daughter, and find it deeply endearing. Kayleigh is teaching us to appreciate and even risk demonstrating the one love we remain and yet so often hide from each other, and from ourselves. Grateful tears well up in my eyes. She licks me and wags her tail. J

Susan Dugan studies, teaches, and writes about A Course in Miracles in Denver, Colorado. She chronicles her personal experience with its transformative mind healing in her popular blog: www.foraysinforgiveness.com and is co-founder and faculty member of the School of Reason for A Course in Miracles teachers and students (www.schoolofreason.org ) in Denver, Colorado. She appears in the documentary A Course in Miracles: The Movie along with other Course teachers including Nouk Sanchez and Tomas Vieira, Take Me To Truth: Undoing the Ego, premier Course scholar, teacher, and prolific author Kenneth Wapnick, PhD, and Gary Renard, best-selling author of The Disappearance of the Universe. A freelance writer, her fiction has appeared in literary magazines such as eclectica, JMWW, Carve, RiverSedge, Prosetoad, Amarillo Bay, The Saint Ann's Review, River Oak Review, and Echoes.

Susan Dugan

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