Shadow’s barks, urgent in their “this is important” tone, made me look outside with curiosity. Outside, the air was a chilly seven degrees and the wind made the “feels like” temperature well below zero. What could he be barking at? He was at the end of the driveway, edging forward and then darting back as if something might be after him.
In warmer weather, I might have worried about a bear. We saw one from our dining room window the October before, and once in early summer down by the creek. And Shadow’s voice those times had the same urgent quality.
“What could he be barking at?” I asked my husband.
“Maybe it’s a toad,” he replied.
Okay. It’s true that bears haven’t been the only thing to render Shadow nearly hysterical. There was the time (he was still a pup) he sounded so upset we were sure Something Was Seriously Wrong. We rushed outside to find the object of his attentions: a small toad, blinking impassively while Shadow, his nose six inches from the little critter, rang the air with his alarms. And then there was the turtle. Actually there were several turtles.
So, given that history and the fact that seven degrees isn’t the kind of weather I’m dying to be outside in, I let him bark for a while. Finally, I pulled on my boots and suited up and trudged down to the end of the drive to see what was up.
Sitting along the edge of the road, across the street from our neighbor’s home (which Shadow feels is his to protect as well as our own) were two large dark green garbage bags. It looked like our neighbors had signed up for a trash service.
“Seriously?” I asked Shadow. “Garbage bags?”
I could see in a second what they were, but all Shadow saw was that something in his world was different. An awareness of change, of something new or different in the environment is generally considered a sign of intelligence in animals, humans included. Shadow was once again proving he’s no dummy. He didn’t recognize the bags for what they were, and he was doing his best to alert us the Something Has Changed.
I laughed at him, because I could see how benign the change was. But, thinking about it, I realized I often react to change in much the same way: with fear and apprehension, imagination magnifying the possible negative effects with no idea how benign a certain change may or may not be.
And, to give him credit, the next week when the bags appeared, he didn’t even give them a second glance, ignoring them as if to say, “I’m so over that.” He quickly adapted and that made me wonder just who really had the last laugh between us.
Because when I think about all the fear, worry, and negative thoughts I’ve expended just because something has changed—or worse, worrying about the fact that something might change—I wish I had his ability to quickly adapt.
Doodle, the narrator of the Doodlebugged mysteries, is a catalyst for and often a creator of change in the lives of the humans he lives with. In Bed-Bugged, the first book in the series, “the boss” Josh Hunter has the courage to give up a dead-end job in the Appalachian mountains and move with his ten-year-old daughter, Molly, to Arlington to start a new business. It’s a big change, and only the first of many, because Doodle’s nose and Molly’s independence lead the two of them into all sorts of trouble. Doodle is the kind of dog that embodies or perhaps generates the Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times.”
But Doodle, like his real-life counterpart Shadow, recognizes change and moves on. “Live for the now,” is his motto. He doesn’t spend time worrying about the future or obsessing about the past.
Good advice for all of us. Every day we are barraged with shouts that the sky is falling: in politics, in our laws, in the weather, in the publishing world . . . the list goes on and on. And while some of these changes might be the equivalent of a bear, they’re more often the toads along the highway of life. We can save a lot of energy if we don’t over-react, if we, like our canine friends, learn to acknowledge change and move on.
*This blog originally appeared on Writers & Other Animals on Feb 8.2015.