| All of us who have loved and lost a cherished pet understand the pain. We also understand the need to grieve and move on. Our family recently lost our golden retriever of thirteen years. We vowed to never have another dog. We would be content with our two cats.
As often happens though, fate steps in and makes choices for you. We heard of a dog which was in need of a good home. He was living with a family in a house in town. They loved the dog, but his growing size and boundless energy were becoming too much for them to handle. Though he had bonded with their son, they felt it necessary to give him away. I've always been a firm believer that everything in life has a reason, and that sometimes you just have to go with your heart. We have a good home with a lot of love in it. Both my wife and I had noticed how empty it had felt since the death of our dog.
After a few days of soul searching, we contacted the family and arranged a visit. The limited information we received was that he was part golden retriever, and he was still a puppy. On impulse we made arrangements to see him. Along with our son we jumped in our car and headed out on the road. After an hour's drive, and a quick stop for lunch, we pulled into a suburban neighborhood of neat and well maintained homes. My wife and I agreed that it was a tough neighborhood to raise a golden retriever. The breed is known not only for their gentle temperament, but also for their energy and love of open spaces.
As we entered the home, we were greeted with what I can only describe in my first shocked moments as a cross between a golden retriever and an English wolf-hound. We were soon entertained by his antics as in a blur of light brown fur he proceeded to run in circles, sprint up and down the stairs and leap on and off of the furniture. It turns out that his name is Chase. He's seven months old and is a cross between a golden retriever and a german shepherd. He is also sixty pounds of muscle and energy, still growing, and makes a cheetah look like a slowpoke.
Hearing laughter, we turned to see Chase with his paws on my sonís shoulders. With tail wagging, Chaseís long and pink tongue was excitedly licking residual ice cream off my son's delighted face. Seeing the joy on my sonís face, my wife and I made the decision that would change our lives. Before we knew it, we were saying our goodbyes and loading our new dog into the car for the long drive home. Whether he was scared or possibly tired from his previous escapades, Chase spent the entire trip home quietly in the back seat with his head on my wife's lap. We marveled at his calm and well-behaved temperment.
As Chase settled into his new surroundings we began to learn a few other things about our new puppy. Chase was given his name for a reason. He will chase anything, and I mean anything! We have all gotten into the habit of calling him Chaser. Heíll chase balls, birds, butterflies, squirrels, cats, rabbits, deer, or people. It really doesn't matter. If it moves, and God put it on this good earth; he will chase it.
Chase also likes to chew things. As a matter of fact as I'm writing this story I can hear him chewing on what I hope is a piece of rawhide and not a chair leg, or my favorite pair of sneakers. We've also learned that Chase, for all his faults, is a gentle and loving dog. He also needs plenty of exercise. We've gotten into the habit of taking him for a long walk in the morning and a shorter one in the afternoon, or early evening.
Not far from our house are acres of open fields and woodlands. They make the ideal playground for Chase. It's during our long walks through these fields that Iíll take Chase's leash off and allow him to run free and chase whatever he wants. His favorites are birds, rabbits and the occasional deer. On a recent morning, I watched with chagrin as Chase rushed back and forth through the fields chasing birds, but not quite catching them. I think that if he ever caught one he probably wouldn't know what to do with it anyway.
He especially loves to startle geese into flight and race off after them. The geese, due to their size will fly low to the ground while frantically flapping their wings as Chase bounds a few feet behind. I should be happy that dogs donít have wings. If they did, I have no doubt that Chase would be spending his summers in Canada and his winters in Florida. When I call him, he'll reluctantly race back to me. I'll rub his head and say,
"Chaser, you're never going to catch those geese."
He doesnít seem to care as he bounds off into the woods for his next adventure with a look on his face that could only be described as pure happiness.
On one particular morning as Chase ran through the woods I did my best to keep up with him, but as always failed miserably. Hearing a commotion up ahead I increased my speed. I had learned from experience that when Chase was running and barking, there was usually trouble.
I soon came breathlessly into a clearing in which stood a single, massive oak tree. Beneath the tree was Chase, neck craned skyward, tail wagging, still carrying that bemused expression on his face. Taking a closer look, I could see that about twenty feet off the ground clinging precariously to the trunk of the oak tree was possibly the biggest raccoon I had ever seen. As I approached the tree I shouted to Chase,
"Hey boy. I see you let another one get away!"
He really didn't seem to care. With the raccoon now out of his reach, he lost interest and headed out to begin a new chase; perhaps with a rabbit, or some other fast and uncatchable creature.
As Chase rushed off with his tail still wagging, I took a moment to observe the raccoon. He had obviously been chased before and knew some tricks. He remained motionless as if pretending to be invisible. Not a muscle moved as he clung to that old oak tree. I laughed to myself as I quietly whispered,
ďHey old boy. The chase is over. It looks like youíre safe for another day."
In that moment, in the quiet of the forest as I thought of Chase and the raccoon, a strange thought came to me. In a moment of perfect clarity I realized that my own life, much like my dog's had become a series of chases. While Chase had his birds and raccoon to chase, I had spent most of my own life on my own personal chases. I'd been chasing better grades in school, athletic scholarships, a better job, a big promotion, a bigger house, and more money.
The funny thing is that even though I've achieved many of these goals, I've never really found happiness. So many times Iíve spent years on single-minded chases to attain something at the exclusion of everything else. Once Iíd finally reached my goal and the chase was complete I was faced not with satisfaction at my accomplishment, but a feeling of emptiness. Imagine Chase, finally catching something, and then realizing that itís not the tasty bird that he had expected, but rather an unappetizing and smelly skunk.
As I headed home with Chase I continued to think. I kept my eye on him as he continued to chase, but never quite catch any of the birds. They seemed to wait until he was close and then at the last second would take flight as if teasing him. It never seemed to bother him. After each inevitable failure, he would move on to the next bird and try again.
It was then that I realized that this simple, innocent and loving creature really didn't care if he never caught anything. To him the joy was in the chase, and in the thrill of running and jumping and living each moment to the fullest. Neither fear, nor the disappointment of failure ever deterred him from his chases. As he ran through the forests or fields he would see every obstacle, not as a hindrance, but as an opportunity to enjoy the moment. If he couldn't go over an obstacle, he would go around it.
Iíve always believed that many of lifeís lessons are learned from Godís simplest creatures. We can all take a lesson from Chase and realize that our whole lives are a journey which leads to a series of chases. Maybe not through fields and forests, but a journey nevertheless. A journey through life. All of us are always chasing things. Some we catch, and some we donít. Whatís important is the realization that the secret to true happiness is not to get caught up in our chases. We must learn to enjoy the moment. To understand and appreciate life as a gift. Tomorrow will come soon enough. Live for today, not for what lies around the next bend.
Iíve already decided to be a little bit more like Chase. I still have my chases. I still have hopes and dreams and goals. Iím moving towards the future, but Iím enjoying the present. Iím learning to savor each precious moment. Iím facing life, not with fear, but with awe and wonder. Most importantly; I think Iím finally happy.