I have always been crazy about dogs but I got my own furry baby last November. We got Leo (a chocolate Labrador) when he was eight weeks old and recently celebrated his first birthday. Our life changed completely since the day he arrived.
Leo’s first five months were the rainy winters of Seattle. Obviously, it was a crazy time. Something we heard from many and also experienced is that raising a puppy is very similar to raising a child. We went through several phases of his development. Just like first-time parents, we got lots of advice from others, tons of information online. We kept experimenting and learnt tricks of the trade along the way.
It is said that every dog has his own personality and Leo certainly has his. Always happy-go-lucky and fun loving, he brings joy wherever he goes. He makes you laugh with his goofiness. He is very high energy, wants to play all the time and food is his weakness. However, deep down he is also very gentle and loving. Once there was a rescue dog in the park who had severe anxiety due to a troubled past. He would growl ferociously at any passing dog. Leo is usually very excited and jumpy when he sees other dogs but when he saw this rescue dog, he just stopped and sat down with a very caring look on his face. The other dog kept snarling at him but Leo’s body language kept softening. The other dog came closer to Leo trying to scare him off but Leo persisted. Finally, the other dog was confused and he stopped barking for a moment. Leo seized the opportunity and licked his face, gave him lot of kisses! That has been one of the most heart-warming moments for me to date. That was also the first time I witnessed Leo’s emotional side. The other dog calmed down and started playing with Leo. The owners of the other dog said that Leo was the first friend he ever made. He had been adopted recently and was quite aggressive so most dogs stayed away. But here was Leo, finding a friend in everyone! His love is truly unconditional. We didn’t teach him any of this – it was all in his heart and he is so special.
There were several days when Leo’s energy was out of bounds and tested the best of our patience. But at the end of the day, we had no regrets…only gratitude because we got much more in return. We worked on socializing Leo with other dogs and in return, we got an opportunity to socialize as well. Thanks to Leo we found community in a foreign country! It is quite amazing how mutual love of dogs can create an instant connection.
We have been working on training Leo and we found lessons for ourselves in return. There were few occasions when strangers remarked negatively about Leo’s size or his behavior in an insulting manner (often racial/hatred undertones). We also got unsolicited advice. Initially, it made us feel bad and inadequate as his caretakers. But gradually, we learnt to take it in our stride. Neither are we perfect and nor is Leo. At the end of the day, does it really matter how others judge? We are happy with him and he is very happy with us. He is still in the learning mode and so are we. Somehow it made me draw parallels to our broader life. Life also presents similar pressures – where larger society places higher value on certain things such as status, wealth, appearance, etc. It can make us feel unsure of our choices. But, in the end, what makes us happy? Can we find our own happiness or do we need validation by others? That is the other thing which Leo taught us – he can have fun wherever he goes – doesn’t care about the location. He loves all food – doesn’t care if it is a gourmet meal. He loves to play with all dogs – doesn’t care if the other dog is well-groomed, purebred or not. He finds excitement in the most insignificant of things – morsel of food, piece of paper, a twig! It is so much simpler to live if we don’t make certain distinctions.
Leo also brought us closer to nature and made us realize that we are, after all, a creation of nature as well. So, we can be as happy-go-lucky as Leo too!
Last but not the least, Leo is the best stress-buster! The joy of seeing the happiness in his eyes when you wake up in the morning and when you come back home to him is unparalleled. He makes you forget everything else while he is around!!