Here it is the Fourth of July and who would have dreamed a year ago how much things would change? I also cannot believe that I have been writing the Reflections for the church E-news for 14 weeks now! I am trying to be patient with all the changes and the model for that is my precious Sita. I hope you enjoy this reflection and please stay safe and well and cool! Happy Fourth everyone!
I am extremely fortunate to have had Sita, a yellow lab service dog, by my side for 13 years. She is somewhere between 15 and 16 years old, which is remarkable for a large dog.
I have written a picture book and an adult devotional book on her, while she has taught me and others some wonderful lessons. She is amazing and has “served’ many people in her long life.
The most mesmerizing part of her is her amber eyes. I locked eyes with her when she was handed over to me by the foster mother and immediately fell in love with her. When I brought her home, my late mother said, “You can tell she has a soul.”
When we joined the Congregational United Church of Christ in 2013, the entire church became infatuated by her. Our pastor once told me that when she walks up the aisle, he feels at peace because of her sweet expression.
There are several lessons she has taught all of us, which have helped through good and bad times. I am just mentioning a few – I am not allowed to write an entire book here!
ALWAYS BE AT PEACE
Sita has a gentle soul and a calm demeanor. She never growls, or cries, or gets upset – maybe this is why she has lived so long. Calculate the math – she would be 105 in human years!
Her life was not always easy. She was abandoned in the streets and ended up in a kill shelter. She was rescued by Circle Tail, where I got her from, and trained in the prison program. She was initially shy, but now knows she is loved and has been with me for many dog years!
LOVE EVERYBODY –BE TOTALLY WITHOUT BIAS
This was the scenario in church before COVID, and I am confident it will happen again. Sita stays in the foyer when people come in and is the official greeter. She approaches each person either new or long-time member and wants to be petted. Sita knows she is not allowed to be petted when she is working and in the vest. I was very strict about this when I first received her. Now she knows the difference when working in vest and not working when the vest is off. In the church, she is not working, and loves her freedom!
We always sit in the front, so I can lip read the pastor. She has walked more and more slowly over the years but still stops at every pew to greet everyone. She greets the person sitting on the end first and then goes up each pew to be spoiled. She then sits in front of me during the service. Sometimes, she gets up and goes over to the music director and sits with her. She watches everyone come up front to take communion and stays right there with me.
Sita does not care how old one is, what color or race, or gender or creed. She treats everyone the same.
Sita often is treated to belly rubs after church by the young people in the congregation. One day she attended a memorial service with me. The husband of the wonderful woman whose life we were celebrating asked if she could sit with his grandson. She did not want me to leave her, so he asked me to sit with the family. Sita did not have to talk like we feel compelled to do, her gentle spirit and being there was enough.
She consoled many of the troubled foster and adoptive children in the private practice where I was a counselor. I particularly remember one time, when the adoptive parents of a child I had counseled for several years called me. His foster father had died suddenly and truly the only father he ever knew, until his very recent adoption. They were bringing him in to have me break the news. I gently told him and did not know what else to say. I had only been partnered with Sita for a couple of months. He went over and cried into her fur for a long time. Sita did what Sita does – she sat quietly and was just there for him. I told his parents I was so glad that I had her and they nodded.
Another time, I was talking to an adult, who was sobbing hysterically for good reason. We were sitting opposite each other, and neither of us was paying any attention to Sita, who was lying quietly under my desk. Sita got up, reached on top of my desk, and pulled out a Kleenex with her mouth. She trotted over and handed it to my client. We stopped in amazement because I never taught her this, she had observed me do this several times when someone was crying. The client said, “Sita, you made my day!”
This is Sita – always wanting to comfort people and make them feel better, without saying a word. We can do the same.
LIVE IN THE MOMENT- HAVE FAITH
Sita doesn’t worry as we do about the pandemic, or civil unrest, or anything else. At her advanced age, every single day she goes out and rolls in the grass whether it is wet or dry, like a little puppy. We can certainly learn from that. Just as Sita trust humans to take care of her, we need to trust God to take care of us!
SAVOR EVERY BITE
She is a lab and loves to eat! Weight is very difficult to keep off labs, but to watch her is a delight. She licks a dish of ice cream slowly and drools over every drop. She enjoys every single morsel of food. She jumps up and down waiting to be fed. She does not need expensive gadgets, or clothing or cars. Good food is enough and she is easy to please!
DON’T DESPAIR OVER GETTING OLD
I mourn what I used to do with her. She would go on the playground with another black lab and they would run by the hour. I miss those days. She has gracefully accepted going from long runs to long walks, to shorter walks. All she can do now is lay in the grass by the hour outside our apartment but is perfectly content. She is stoic and accepting of her old age – actually much better than me.
There have been times I have accidentally stepped on her. She yelps and I am all upset. She immediately comes over, wants to be petted, and forgives me. We can do the same.
SENSE WHEN SOMEONE IS UPSET AND JUST BE
Sita knows when I am upset or things are not going well. After my mother died and I was diagnosed with cancer, she began snapping at other dogs. I was hysterical, thinking I would not be able to have her as a service dog. A dog trainer told me if I calmed down, she would. Sure enough, the trainer was right. She can’t talk, but puts her head under my hand and nudges me and that is all I need to be OK. We need to be sensitive to each other when someone is in pain and hurting.
These traits are beneficial to us humans too. Love unconditionally, savor every bite (no gulping), forgive easily, seize the day, greet everyone without bias, don’t lament over getting old, don’t worry, and have faith!
Another important lesson is to be sensitive and there for others. Most of all is be still. The Bible reminds us in the verse, “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 (NIV)