The Gift of Dogs: Serenity & Connection

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I can’t resist a book about a dog. I was especially intrigued by Let Me Tell You About Jasper… because it it is written by Dana Perino, co-host of Fox New Channel’s “The Five” and former White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush.

I was even more intrigued when I came across her book tour schedule and found that she would be at the Nixon Presidential Library in Orange County, about an hour away from where I live.

In the spirit of work-life balance, one of my goals is to seek out different kinds of events to attend, to learn new things, and to get out of the everyday haze.

And in the spirit of learning and growing from this past election, I’m seeking out ways to get out of the “echo chamber” (see John Oliver last Sunday and Nick Kristof today) that I’m obviously in, as all of my Facebook friends voted for Hillary Clinton (or at least those who posted about it), and most of the people I follow on Twitter predicted that she would (and should) win. (For the record, I consider myself an Independent).

I drove down to the Nixon Presidential Library, led by curiosity and by that bond dog lovers share. It was an interesting conversation between Perino and Richard Grenell, both dog lovers. I was most intrigued to be with people outside of my own social group, and hear their perspective on current affairs, our country, and the world. It was eye opening in many ways, and I’m grateful for that.

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The event was in a replica of the White House East Room.

With the exception of a few comments about politics, Perino and Grenell talked mostly about each of their dogs, Jasper and Lola, and how dogs are both great equalizers and great stabilizers.

Perino said that her favorite place in New York City is the dog park. In a busy life filled with stress, that’s where she finds serenity. “For me, it means you’re not really worried about yesterday or tomorrow. You’re just there. And that’s where I get that kind of peace,” she said.

She expanded on how dogs are equalizers: “I find we connect with other humans through our dogs. And I don’t think that’s just us, I think it goes for people all over the world… I’ve seen the power of dogs to comfort those who are lonely.” (A portion of the proceeds of Let Me Tell You About Jasper goes to Companions for Heroes).

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This is reinforced in the book, which is all about the impact Jasper, and all the dogs she’s loved in her life, have had on her. She writes:

“I’ve long used dogs as a buffer between my work and personal life, though I didn’t realize it until I sat down and really thought about how much I appreciate dogs. On my way to work, I see dogs out for their afternoon walks and it always makes me smile. Dogs have a way of softening my hard edges.

And I’ve found that no matter what the controversies or issues of the day that we discuss–and argue about–on television and online, dogs are the great equalizer. Just when it feels like we are so polarized as a country between right and left, and that we can’t get along, remember that we have a few things in common–and for millions of us, that is our love for pets. Sometimes, if you can’t get along with anyone or you have strife in a relationship, find common ground through your dogs: hit the dog park and reconnect.”

Grenell shared how his dog is a great stabilizer in his life, especially during this stressful election season. “Sometimes I would take an extra walk just so I could see my dog interact with the world,” he said, describing how he would unwind at night after getting home.

During the Q&A portion, I actually got to ask a question– about work-life balance, of course. I asked her how she manages to have a busy and successful career and spend time with her dog and husband. She said she simply couldn’t do it without her husband Peter and his support and the partnership they have. 

“My favorite piece of advice from my first book is that being loved is not a career-limiting decision,” she said. “Another thing that I really believe is having a dog really helped strengthen my marriage.”

The final question from the audience was about how people of different political views get offended by each other, and therefore there’s a breakdown in communication between them. The answer? 

“Maybe everybody should just get a dog.”

And those were literally the last words of the discussion. 

The book is a touching tribute to the love of, and for, dogs, what they can teach us, how they can help us to slow down and appreciate life, and how they can bring us together even if we disagree on politics or other issues.

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This Moment Is All That Matters – We Will (Soon) Run Out.

Mornings With Minjay Michelle Chahine Sinno

In the third installment of Minjay’s birthday week lessons, I’m attempting to put into words his deep wisdom on change, aging and mortality.

The soul is a thing you can see.

A couple of years ago, when he was around four, we were sitting in our favorite spots on our couches, me curled up on the left arm of our gray two-seater. Minge curled up in his white armchair. I think I was watching television or reading, and he was sleeping. He awoke and looked up, looked at me, and I looked at him. And I was startled because… I recognized him.

That might sound silly. Recognized him? I saw him every day. Most workdays, at the time, I was home all day with him writing. How could I “recognize” someone I was with every day. But the thing is, in that quiet moment, I saw him for the individual he was, with his own character and his own presence, and his own soul. (The souls of animals is something much smarter women and better writers than I, like Dr. Jane Goodall and Sy Montgomery, have explored and tried to describe.) This is one of the harder lessons to put into words, but I’ll keep working on it!

Minjay Michelle Chahine Sinno

This moment is all that matters – we will (soon) run out.

Not to be morbid, but I think of this every day. And ever since he was three years old, I’ve been very aware of being in the moment, because that was when I first realized he was growing older: He was no longer a little puppy, and there would be a day when I would have to say good bye to him.

Every walk, every cuddle, every morning is precious. And it’s not that I’m worried about losing him (though I certainly am, already), it’s about knowing just how valuable every
moment is, in a way that is all too easy to take for granted in our busy modern lives. But I don’t anymore, thanks to
Minjay.

Things are going to change. We are going to age. That’s OK.

When I first saw signs of Minjay aging, I freaked out—feelings that reached a peak during the horrible surgery he had to endure last year. Once he recovered, and taught me a whole Minjaylist of lessons on resilience (we’ll leave those for another day), he taught me that it was OK. Though part of
me wanted to reminisce about his puppy endless, boundless energy, and was sad that he had slowed down a bit, there were so many wonderful things that came with that slowing down. We could now sit together in coffee shops, and even though he’d jump up to greet everyone who passed eagerly, he was calm, sure of himself, still and happy to enjoy just sitting outside together. At home on the couch, he started to jump up and snuggle his face into my lap, something he never did as a puppy. There were all these facets of him I was getting to see, facets that only came with his maturing and age, and wonderful new moments and lessons to experience. And as we age together, and grow up together (and he raises both me and my husband to be better humans), our bond grows deeper. And I wouldn’t change that for a thing. Because he’s perfect today, just the way he is. (And, he teaches me, so am I).