The Past Is Present: You Have to Change to Remain the Same

By Harry Burrus

Five dogs loom heavily and dramatically from my SPA past: Yelka, Molly, Laika, Fiona, and Negrito. I need to go back much further to illustrate my lack of a canine-frame-of-mind. I’d asked a relative to come and play in a tennis tournament. He said he couldn’t because he didn’t want to board his dogs. I thought, get a bloody life, come on, and get real. I had no idea at the time that I would not only understand and embrace his sentiments; I would, to my total surprise, eagerly welcome canines into my everyday life and hold on to their memory when adopted. To paraphrase Henri Bergson, to be close to dogs and get them, you must throw yourself into dog walking and work with them in order for a relationship to be possible. Henri’s example had to do with swimming—one had to get in the water in order to swim.

I quickly saw it wasn’t the length of time I had with a dog that mattered, rather the intensity and quality of the relationship. The gazelles of the Serengeti had nothing on the agility of Yelka. This little black beauty I was with for a mere seven months. She was a gymnastic virtuoso with incredible moves. Molly, my black panther/lab mix, loved playing ball and jumping into the water bins. I ingested her enthusiasm. She would sit and go down at the snap of the fingers. Laika was the color of sunshine. Often picked on by other dogs and leery of most people, she relished friendship. Lovely, adorable Fiona tirelessly retrieved my ball tosses. She stared me down, waiting for the next long throw. Negrito, a tall, handsome lad, was a crackerjack observer who looked at me for affirmation when he startled a lizard.

All five exhibited the traits of loyalty, an eagerness to learn and please, plus, they were excellent listeners. I confess, initially I was saddened by their departure. The loss was painful. I missed them. I had to change and that was my epiphany. Yelka, Molly, Laika, Fiona, and Negrito had demonstrated what was possible and by opening myself to new dogs I would again have incredible moments. I’m pleased the past is present and all that wonderful goodness remains with me. I have to smile when I think of Bergson’s, “To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” Indeed. I learned from a wise and capable quintet.


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