Lessons from a Small Barking Dog

Guest Post by Stephen Anderson

Yesterday I saw some incredible compassion play out involving a small dog that was tied up all day across the street from me and was barking all day.

The dog’s owners had gone somewhere for the day and after a few hours of sitting and scratching the little dog started barking and barking and ended up barking for most of the day.

I got annoyed and looked out my window to see what the dog was barking at.

I couldn’t see any other dogs or people nearby that could have set him off so I watched him more carefully to see what was going on.

My mind was in a ping pong match being swatted back and forth by where I wanted to put my attention, watching the ball game on TV or the barking dog.

My neighbors on both sides of me took turns going over and petting the little dog. The dog playfully responded to the attention but when they left and the petting stopped he started barking again.

It finally dawned on me that the dog was barking because he was lonely and missed his owners. It was then that I stopped feeling annoyed at his barking and started to feel compassion for his situation.

I wondered how I would feel if I was “tied up” all day without any love or attention.

I then realized that I was “tied up” to the lonely lifestyle that I was living and most of my vocalizations were just enlightened forms of barking.

For the rest of the day, I listened with my heart as the dog barked and barked until his owners finally came home.

I watched his owners park their car, and I assumed that they would get out and give the dog some much-needed attention, but they didn’t. Even though he was excitedly jumping with joy to see them, they walked by him as if he wasn’t there. But at least the dog stopped barking, for his owners were home, and I imagined that he didn’t feel alone anymore.

I watched his owners carry out their slow-motion dance of avoidance as they unloaded their car and carried different items into their trailer. After they were done unloading the car, the dog followed them inside, and the afternoon episode of compassion or lack thereof was over but was it over? 

No, it wasn’t, for even though I had gained a new understanding of compassion I also had been awakened to the truth of my own situation.

Unlike the dog who could only vocally express his feelings through barking, I was able to avoid the truth about my lifestyle by replacing my feeling of loneliness with a substitute “feeling” for outside objects that I surrounded myself with, like TV, books, wifi, food, drugs, sex and sports and the list goes on and on.

Hmmm, maybe I should start barking to see who shows up to give me attention?

Or am I already doing a more sophisticated barking through my chosen activities, but I’ve been playing the same game as the dog for so long that I have forgotten why I got into the game in the first place?

Am I like a fish that doesn’t know it is swimming in the water?

In truth, like the fish, I’m swimming in my own lonely world, and I have gotten so used to the normality of it that I don’t feel anything anymore, and it took a small barking dog to wake me out of my private delusionary world.

Dogs bark

Cats meow

Coyotes howl

And I use words

To fill the lonely void…

4 Responses

  1. What a beautiful thing you have done to listen to your heart and to be brave enough to share your truth. Sending you compassion and gratitude for your insight and courage.

    1. Doreen, Can you share with me what part of the story moved you the most? Did a certain line manage to pluck your heart strings? Thanks for taking the time to read my story and leave a comment.

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