By Cesar Millan
There are incredible examples of the loyalty dogs have shown to their human and animal friends. Think of Hawkeye, the dog who lay down next to the casket of his Navy SEAL owner in grief. Or Hachiko, the Akita who greeted his owner at the train station every day when he returned home from work, and after the owner suddenly died, returned to the train station at the same time every day for nine years (There's a beautiful movie called Hachi: A Dog's Tale starring Richard Gere about this dog).
Why are dogs so loyal?
Some people would say dog are loyal just because they depend on us for food and shelter, so they have to be nice to us. But when you see how dogs react when their humans and canine friends come back after they've been gone for a long time or when they don't come back at all, you know it's about more than food.
Related: The most loyal breed
Dogs are pack animals. They want to belong to a pack, whether it's made up of dogs or humans, or pretty much any animal. You can look at these Unlikely Animal Friends videos to see all the different kinds of friends that dogs will make. Dogs aren't loners. When they lose a member of a pack, even temporarily, they feel that a part of them is missing.
Dogs are also naturally affectionate. Their instinct is to want to bond. Dogs that fight or attack have been conditioned by humans to be that way. Dogs want to love and be loved, which I think deep down is what all of us want. They want to be part of a pack, contribute to their pack, and protect their fellow pack members.
My dogs have been my most loyal friends and constant companions. I've always known that Daddy or Junior or one of my other pack members was always there for me. They didn't care about whether I was famous; they just loved me for me. And I love them. If you saw my recent video against bullying, you heard me talk about my very humble beginnings. When I was a kid, I was poor, I didn't have a lot of friends, but I could always count on my dogs. But can our dogs count on us?
Man's best friend
The friendship between man and dog has gone back thousands of years. Dogs didn't become "man's best friend" for no reason. They give us unconditional love every day. My question is, do we deserve it? I see too many stories of dogs being mistreated, dogs being made to fight, dogs being overbred for profit, dogs being killed because they don't have homes.
Dogs have been loyal to us. It's time we return the favor.
I’ve always loved dogs. I’ve almost always had a dog in my life. And when I didn’t, I wanted one. The benefits of bonding with a canine companion are endless. They reduce our anxiety and depression, lower our blood pressure, and help keep us physically active. They can be trained to sniff out tumors, warn us of seizures or low blood sugar. They risk their lives protecting their owners whether they are police officers, soldiers, or families. They provide valuable support to those who are disabled. But most importantly of all, they are our best friends. Which bring me to the story of “Spike.”
When my wife said she adopted a dog and was bringing it home after work I objected, strongly objected. At the time we had two dogs and a cat. She listened to my objections and said, “See you after work dear with our new dog, byeeeeeeeeee.” So there he was, a cute little two-year-old 10-pound critter. I could see how she couldn’t resist. She was right…again. So the next day when I took him to the vet we found out he had bad teeth, heart worms and was probably abused and neglected by his prior owner. I signed over my next paycheck. But it was worth it. Despite his issues, Spike was a loyal friend with the heart of a lion. When we went for walks, he was the “King of the pavement.” Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinchers, watch out for Spike because this was his City and he would let you know.
Several years later, he developed a serious progressive lung disease related to his early years of neglect. I exhausted all treatment options including the Veterinarians’ School at Purdue University who gave him six months to live. On my way home from Purdue, I stopped at work for a minute. On my way in, a client with schizophrenia ask me “What’s wrong with your dog”? There was no hiding Spike’s grim condition. I explained Spike’s condition and told him that he only had six months to live. The client said in a very matter of fact tone, “All you need is a miracle,” and walked away. However, I was too self-absorbed to entertain a miracle as I was also preoccupied with the trauma of a loved one struggling with addiction.
The years we had Spike were during a very difficult time for us, as one of the young adults in our family was stricken with addiction. The pain of addiction is beyond words both for the family, as well as the one struggling with addiction. The cycle of family interventions, treatment, glimpses of recovery, and relapse, over and over was crippling our hope. A young adult, nurtured by a loving family, and a loving extended family, was lost, spiraling out of control exchanging life’s infinite dreams for a life of rapid decay. Among other things, addiction is a disease of isolation. Withdrawing into oneself has devastating consequences. How do you enjoy Thanksgiving dinner when a loved one is homeless and out of touch with family for months at a time? Christmas, birthdays, photographs of an innocent past, all replaced with an unpredictable destructive cycle. It’s a rough road, but eventually I learned that I was powerless, and let go.
Spike on the other hand was consistent, helping me to carry on despite my loneliness, anger, depression, and personal trauma. He was predictable, always there to greet me when I came home and quick to steal a sandwich when you turned your head. But now he was gravely ill.
A friend of mine told me of a Vet, Dr. Reed, who has a reputation for working with “lost causes”. After reading Spike’s two-inch thick chart and following a thorough examination, he suggested a simple medication to give him a better quality of life for his final months. However, very slowly over time Spike’s health began to improve. He was once again the “King of the pavement” and his six-month life expectancy turned into an additional five-and-a-half years of a good life. Everyone at the Vet’s office referred to him as “Spike the miracle dog.”
During the last few weeks of Spike’s life, as his health was failing, our missing loved one returned. Was it a spiritual awakening? Did the lifestyle of addiction become just too difficult to endure? Was it a miracle? I don’t know what the future holds, but the present is filled with sobriety and the hope of a promising life.
So now, when faced with present or future life-challenging or threatening events, I am equipped with a greater ability to look beyond the probabilities life has in store and to be open and hopeful for the unlimited possibilities that life has to offer, just by letting go.
“I believe that a dog is man’s best friend” and “I believe in miracles.”
Copyright © 2005-2018 This I Believe, Inc., all rights reserved. Please contact This I Believe, Inc., regarding reprints and permissions requests at https://thisibelieve.org/contact/.