Freethought Today · October 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

2017 Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay Contest Second Place By Jacey Anderson

My dog is more than just my co-pilot

FFRF awarded Jacey $2,000 for her essay.

By Jacey Anderson

I did not construct my morals in the pew of a church or find them crouching between psalms in the bible — rather, they arose primarily from the time I have spent with my dog (which, suspiciously, is "God" spelled backwards).

My dog has proven to be a teacher of infinite patience and enthusiasm, and has imparted countless pearls of wisdom about how to live and treat others that serve as my guiding philosophy to this day. The most profound of his teachings are as follows.

Everyone has a job to do and it's important to work hard at your job.

In the case of my canine companion, it seems to be guarding the yard against squirrels, while mine is to achieve all that I can in school. But I have found that harnessing genuine enthusiasm for your work goes a long way in accomplishing it. My dog's commitment to his job admittedly puts mine to shame, but I constantly strive to emulate his dedication.
It's important to get to know people before you form opinions about them.

My dog accomplishes this with admirable tenacity by sniffing butts. I try to use conversation (people tend to react poorly if you imitate your dog too closely), but we both do our best to properly acquaint ourselves with people we meet and form social connections. I've found that it's much more difficult to fear or dislike people if I truly take the time to get to know them, particularly in the divisive times that we live in. A simple open-minded conversation can mean the difference between parting in anger or camaraderie, and my dog has repeatedly shown me that the latter is infinitely preferable.

Treat those around you with respect, because they might be having a bad day and bite your face off.

Fortunately, my dog has never been a victim of this particular happenstance, but his awareness of the possibility encourages him to approach unfamiliar situations with caution and consciousness. Think how many times we as individuals, communities, or even nations have failed to treat those around us with dignity and respect and how many conflicts have arisen because of this. Following a simple philosophy of recognizing that you do not exist in a vacuum and that the perspectives of others have value does a great deal to improve relationships and avoid causing unnecessary offense.

Life is not just about work — smell the roses!

Or, in my dog's case, a bread crust dropped days ago by the neighbor kid, a freshly used litter box or whatever seizes his immediate attention. My nose is less adept so I take a more metaphorical approach, but I observe the simple joy that my dog derives from the walk we take every day and think that, perhaps, I also have an obligation to appreciate this endlessly fascinating world that I have barely begun to understand.

We are at our best when caring for others.

When I wearily return home after a trying day, my dog tries to help by bestowing big, slobbery kisses or dutifully bringing me some crusty, worn toy. While I have little use for the objects themselves, I am always touched by the gesture. It is a gentle yet invaluable reminder that, oftentimes, a simple gesture to someone who is suffering can mean the world even if it seems trivial to us.

Lastly, treasure the time you spend with the ones you love.

Life is unpredictable and no guarantees of future happiness exist, so my dog puts his whole heart into our time together and I strive to do the same by internalizing these priceless lessons. No holy book can match the warmth a glance from his warm chocolate eyes imparts, and I would not have it any other way.

Jacey, 19, is from Lynwood, Wash., and attends Washington State University, where she is majoring in animal science. She is planning to become a veterinarian with a specialty of wildlife medicine. Jacey has been active in groups including 4-H, National Honor Society, Hi-Q, Key Club and ZooCorps. She was a National Merit commended Scholar and was salutatorian of her high school class. She is a member of the Secular Student Alliance.

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