The soul of a dog

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There is an old episode of the Twilight Zone, in which an elderly man and his dog die and make their way to the afterlife.  They approach what they believe to be heaven, only to be told that the dog isn’t allowed to enter.  The old man decides that it can’t be much of a heaven if his dog isn’t welcome, so he walks on by.  Of course, it soon becomes clear that this wasn’t heaven after all, but hell, and the devil was trying to trick him.  His loyalty to his dog saved him.  I must have watched a lot of Twilight Zones when I was young, but this one has stuck with me.

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Some people believe that animals don’t have souls.  That everything they do, they do purely out of instinct or because it serves some purpose for survival.  They believe that humans are the only species with a rich interior life, full of dreams and enjoyment.  I know that my dog dreams.  I watch him sleep, his eyes fluttering, paws twitching.  Occasionally he growls, sometimes he barks – tiny barks beneath his breath that sound more like mewling.  This is one of my favourite things to witness, because I know that he’s in some other place, hopefully having fun.  It leads me to imagine which parts of his day he’s reprocessing, which scents he’s remembering, which dogs he is playing with.

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I know that animals do things out of instinct and for survival.  I know that some species have very brief lives in which their purpose is only to mate.  But does that mean that a mayfly can find no joy in its flight?  Does a bird only sing so passionately to attract a mate?  Are we the only species who do something because it sings to our soul?  This seems a narrow and dull way to look at the world.

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My dog finds joy in the simplest things.  Running around the beach after a ball, demolishing squeaky toys, following scents.  If he was a working dog, he’d use these skills for hunting.  Because he’s not, he uses them for play.  And in this combination of instinct and joy, my dog is sure of his purpose and puts all his effort into it, every day.   Every game is as exciting as the first.  I have no doubt that he has a soul and he feeds it with the pursuits that give him joy.

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I know that my purpose is to create.  But unlike my dog, I can allow other things to get in the way.  I rarely approach the page with an enthusiasm and energy as simple as that which my dog brings to his play.  There’s a reason the devil didn’t want any dogs in hell.  Dogs sniff out the truth of the matter.  And my dog is my greatest teacher.  When I falter he reminds me by his example.  That it really is simple.  Focus on doing what you love, fiercely, every day and your soul will never go hungry.

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