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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2 Lessons From Minjay: A Post-Election Special Edition

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Always a smile on Minjay’s face.

A lot of people, all across the political spectrum, are left wondering how to act, feel, and move on from a divisive, bitter election. As I often do in times of challenge, I turn to Minjay for lessons on how to be a good human. Here are two things I’ve learned from him so far that I think apply especially to this week, and to how we can move forward.

Love everyone and everything. Say hi to everyone. Assume they’re the best. Try. But retreat quickly if they’re mean and stay away.

There isn’t a dog or human that we come into contact with on walks or at the park that Minjay doesn’t want to say hi to, play with, and get to know. Minjay will even try to play with dogs who have snapped at him before. He’ll give them a chance, every time, though a bit more cautiously than usual, and if they snap again he just walks away, still happy and wagging his tail.

It is so clear how he assumes that everyone is awesome, everyone is fun, everyone is kind and worth saying hello to. As I’ve watched him over the past four years on daily walks, it’s opened me up to become more friendly and more open to others.

He’s also helped me deal with people who aren’t particularly nice– You always try to say hello and engage, and if they’re mean, you simply walk away without giving it another thought. Which leads me to the next lesson…

My writing partner, always extra happy when we're sitting outside.
My writing partner, always extra happy when we’re sitting outside.

Don’t let anyone affect or change your character.

We were at an outdoor picnic-style event last summer with friends, and in our group there was another dog. The poor pup was a rescue and still getting used to other dogs and noisy outdoor settings. Minjay, every-friendly, wiggled up to the dog to try and play. He rolled around on the grass, smiling, clearly loving our summer night outside. The other dog was barking non-stop, right in Minjay’s face, but that didn’t deter him from having a great time.

I think on some level he knew that the dog wouldn’t hurt him, and he was not about to let anyone ruin his fun or change his mood. I was stunned– even though I’d seen his happy disposition in action a thousand times before, so I shouldn’t have been so surprised— at how he stretched out on our blanket, a huge-happy-dog smile across his face, tail wagging, completely ignoring the other dog’s barks (again, it was right in his face, practically touching him. This wasn’t barking from far away). I made a huge mental note to myself that evening: No matter how someone else is acting, you don’t let them alter who you are and your mood, or ruin a great time for you.

I saw a post by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert on Instagram yesterday that reminded me of this very note I had made to myself a few months ago:

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And finally, I’ll end this post with a great video that is a good reminder of how much we can find in common with people we disagree with, especially when it comes to dogs: