Frankie and Lao Tzu

It’s an interesting mix, exploring the Tao Te Ching and training/being trained by a new puppy at the same time.

After several dogless years, I started scanning the websites of the area animal shelters. I was looking for a medium size dog and beyond that had nothing specific in mind. The shelter one county over had a new litter of unknown parentage; abandoned by their mother at a couple weeks, they were found under an outbuilding. We settled on Ramona and renamed her Frankie, after the dog in my Boone series, taking her home at about seven weeks.

On the recommendation of the shelter staff, we submitted a swab to find out just what we had. It turns out she’s a bowolamore (my word): in descending order, boxer, wolf, Labrador, and seven more breeds. Frankie began growing at breakneck speed. As I write this she’s 10 months old and 60 pounds.

She’s a beauty, as you can see. Also very intelligent, according to several friends who are dog owners. These same people have said to me, “Just get through the first six months and you’ll be fine.” “The first eight months are the hardest; just make it through them . . . .” “Everyone knows that they really start testing you at nine months or so.” I’m putting less and less stock in their pronouncements and trying to meet Frankie as an individual as opposed to a member of a category.

The author Frances McDonald says that even in a tamed animal there is a part that is essentially unavailable to us; the animal exists as its own being. Frankie and I are living that truth as we learn about each other. The teachings of Lao Tzu: that kindness is greater than rules of conduct, that trying to control everything is fruitless, that we should confront the difficult while it is still easy, and balance, always balance, apply directly to working with Frankie (and lots of other things as well). As I said, an interesting mix.

We have good days and bad days, and the Tao says it would be foolish to expect anything else. Actually it says not to expect, period, but to recognize that bad arises from good, and vice versa, and acknowledging both is necessary. Live the present in all its facets. Frankie is much better at that than I am, but I’m learning. As I’m teaching her, she’s teaching me. As it should be.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

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