I used to think people who dressed their dogs up in silly outfits or put bows in their hair needed professional counseling. That was back during my judgmental days when I thought my opinions mattered and always made it a point to make sure everyone around me knew what they were.
Nowadays I don't see the world the same way. And a lot of that is because I am a proud parent of four dogs myself.
My first dog was Frazier - a chiseled pure white boxer who weighed 95 pounds at his prime. Frazier or "Rag" as I called him was a magnificent animal. He was tremendously strong and looked like a small panther when he laid in Bermuda grass in the backyard, soaking up the sun.
Oh the stuff the dog used to do that would drive me nuts -like the time I learned of his affinity for all things plastic. When he was just a puppy, I was outside talking to one of my neighbors, when next thing I knew, 30 minutes had passed. Thinking nothing of it, I went back into the house and found out he enjoyed chewing on plastic. How I discovered this was the two shredded Playstation game discs lying on the floor next to what was left of my pair of $150 sunglasses. In the matter of probably 10 minutes, he'd destroyed $250 worth of over-priced plastic.
Frazier liked plants too. He liked them so much he felt he needed to drag them around the house when I wasn't around. To this day I don't know if he liked the plants or just wanted to play in the dirt. Whichever it was, he was great at digging them up and making sure the dirt was spread around nicely on the new Berber carpet.
Then there were the window blinds or after he arrived, the lack there of. After a day's work on those, I always had to keep them open about a foot from the base of the window.
Both cases probably had something to do with separation anxiety.
For the first year or so, he stayed in the backyard during the day when nobody was home. He took his isolation outside in stride most of the time but when it rained, he resembled the more traditional look of a boxer. Instead of white, he was red and brown and a total mess from the Georgia clay.
Of course this meant the nice new Berber carpet was only nice and new for a short while. It was a lesson learned and burned mental note in my brain for the rest of my life. Don't ever buy Berber carpet because it's impossible to clean.
Once I learned his tendencies and adjusted our lives accordingly, the damage ceased. His imagination and ingenuity never waned though. On several occasions I'd pull into my driveway after work or from wherever I'd been only to find Frazier waiting for me on the front porch. Each time I'd check the gate of the six-foot fence and look for loose boards or places he could have escaped at the bottom only to find nothing. Then, one day while working in the front yard, he scaled the fence and propelled himself over before running up to me in excitement - wiggling his butt vigorously as if to say, "hi Daddy. Did you see what I can do?"
Frazier never stopped amazing me at what he could do. He couldn't talk of course but his expressions told me everything he wanted me to know. Perhaps the greatest thing Frazier did though was teach me about humanity.
As an impatient and irresponsible young man in my early 20s, I didn't really know what I wanted out of life. That time with him changed all of that. He taught me patience and tolerance and what it was like to be dependent on others. I loved that dog maybe more than a human should love an animal. So when he became sick with cancer late in 2010 and I had to make the hardest decision of my life to date, he taught me the greatest lesson in life. Live it to its fullest and have no regrets.