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Posted: May 30, 2013 9:00 p.m.

Morgan: Dogs and cats are great teachers

An oft-quoted saying goes, "I want to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am."

It is, in fact, a lofty goal despite sounding so simple.

First, I am assuming that everyone communicates with his or her dog in some manner, and I am similarly assuming that your dog has his or her own way of communicating with you – and not just by scratching at the door.

I have all the evidence I need to believe that our dog Sonny understands our specific words, and in the same way, I’ve become fluent in his unique language.

As he ages, he’s becoming more and more verbal, so our "conversations" are increasingly nuanced and lengthy.

Sonny believes me completely when I tell him I’m going to take him for a walk, and he’ll wait patiently – until his patience runs out – for me to deliver on that promise.

If time drags and he sees no progress on the pledge, he’ll wheedle me with a pitiable demand in his tone.

And, of course, I jump up to make good on my promise.

My dog won’t let me lie or make excuses.

He makes me conscious of the need to be honest -- in all kinds of relationships.

He is not perfect, but neither am I. When he was a puppy, he chewed through about five shoes, leaving five others without mates. I couldn’t be mad.

It’s what a puppy does when he doesn’t have anything else to chew, right? (Heck, our late, great German shepherds chewed the siding off the house before they grew out of their chewing stage!)

A few times – but only a few – Sonny couldn’t restrain himself and left puddles on the floor.

He was embarrassed when confronted, but it was our fault for not taking him outdoors regularly.

So … forgiveness has to be a habit if you’re going to have a dog, a reminder that the same should be practiced in all parts of our lives.

Something else takes place when you learn to forgive no matter what: You just as surely learn to love unconditionally.

Love given freely in the first place should never be taken back arbitrarily, and then doled out only as a reward for good behavior.

A dog might come to fear its owner when mistreated, but it will never stop loving.

Neither should we. Love and forgiveness go hand-in-hand.

To love is to forgive, and to forgive is to love.

Choosing to live with a dog requires yet another standard: responsibility. Having an animal means being responsible for that animal’s life.

In many ways, our activities and lives in this household are ordered by schedules for keeping Sonny fed, watered, walked, bathed and played with.

He needs medical care no less than we do. We are responsible for meeting his needs, and sometimes that means his needs come before ours.

Being responsible to him and for him also requires us to be disciplined, and that’s something to be learned no matter what endeavors you choose.

So there it is: To be the kind of person my dog thinks I am, I must be honest, forgiving, loving, responsible and disciplined.

And to live in this world as a human being alongside other human beings, we must practice the very same ethics.

But there is more to be learned.

Our household also includes two cats that adopted us, not the other way around.

Want to know what cats teach? To be humble and to be grateful.

They care not whether we are "honest" with them or if they are "forgiven" when they make a mess or bring home a dead bird or if they are loved.

They simply expect their needs to be met, and you can love them or not.

If you don’t learn to be humble based on your own mistakes, a cat will teach you in short order. A cat comports himself or herself with the mien of "Your Holiness."

In turn, we as their servants learn to comport ourselves as "The Humbled."

No entreaties or threats or wheedling on our parts will get us any respect in the eyes of a cat.

A cat doesn’t sweetly beguile us with his or her wants; a cat simply expects and offers little in the way of a thank you when he or she receives.

We long for any small token of appreciation or affection in return, and on the rare occasion when it is granted, we become "The Grateful."

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at barbm2158@gmail.com.

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