Today’s post is a little different: it’s to celebrate the life a wonderful little Jack Russell by the name of Paddy. Paddy was my wife’s constant companion for 17 years, and mine for the last seven. Paddy was put to sleep on Friday after a very long life; he spent his last morning in the sun, then was allowed (for the first time in his life) to eat ice-cream and a chocolate bar. He died happy, whilst we cried our eyes out.
Here’s the thing, Paddy was a wonderful companion because of how he approached the world: fearlessly (except for fireworks), optimistically, mindfully, and compassionately. Paddy loved everything and everyone, and expressed it no matter what. He never dwelt, moped, pouted or sulked. Even when he was in pain or ill, his focus was on the people around him, rather than how he felt. Paddy was an awesome mentor.
OK, I know its easy to anthropomorphise. Obviously, Paddy wasn’t human, and was bound within the cognitive limitations of being a dog. Nevertheless, he demonstrated that, despite not having the large cognitive apparatus available to you or me, he could empathise, take direct action to comfort those around him, and focus on another’s needs in preference to his own. That’s a pretty big deal for a human, let alone a small dog.
I grew up with dogs, but from the time I left home at 17, I became dogless. For the next 20 years, I desperately wanted to have a dog in my life again, but I was never anywhere for long enough (including moving countries three times). When I met my wife seven years ago, I also got to meet and be a part of Paddy’s life – and all of a sudden doggyness was thrust upon me, in the form of seven and a half kilos of irrepressible terrier. I’d always been a little prejudiced toward small dogs, but Paddy was simply a big dog in a small body. Everything he did seemed bigger than his small body should have allowed.
From the moment I met him, Paddy began to teach me. He pointed out (on an extremely regular basis) that I took myself far too seriously; a point he demonstrated by waiting until I was grumpy or sulking, and then doing something ridiculous (like licking a cushion or taking one of his patented pratfalls) to force me back into the moment. He was remarkably good at making me laugh, especially when I was full of myself or stuck in my own head. Paddy also taught me to savour the moment, that there was always time (no matter how busy I thought I was) to stop and smell the roses (or, in his case, the shit – something he was extremely fond of eating as well (I even learnt a new word: coprophagia) – we never learnt to see eye to eye on that one). Most importantly, Paddy taught me that even though it’s easy to pay too much attention to your own feelings (especially the devouring ones like self-pity, frustration, anger, or sadness), it’s also possible to pay attention to the people who are important to you, despite the fact that you might be in pain.
Paddy was always more patient than I was. He knew (despite the fact that I might have thought it was important that he take the piss he’d been telling me he needed for the last 15 minutes) that the process was so much more important than the outcome. For him, finding the right place to pee was so much more important than the actual peeing – and he never once let external conditions convince him otherwise (including snow, the fact that it was 3am, or my insistence). I realise with belated hindsight that he was patiently trying to teach me an important lesson (one that I still struggle with): what you do is less important than how you do it. If you’re going to do something, for dog’s sake, do it well, pay attention, and make sure you get the most out of it.
Paddy’s gift was ability to be mindful no matter what he was doing, or what was going on. Distraction wasn’t an issue for him once he’d decided to do something – be it licking the couch, eating poo, chasing rabbits, or not giving a tennis ball back. As far as he was concerned, each of these activities required his commitment, his patience, and his fidelity. They were not to be rushed, nor were they to be watered down by the whims of those around him. His talents as a “stunt Russell” were something he took great pride in, and he was constantly practising and evolving his art. Not content have mastered the pratfall, he also managed regular somersaults, 360-degree spins, and stair plummets, always perfectly timed and nonchalantly designed to appear spontaneous (we were always sure he’d been planning and practising for weeks beforehand though).
Like all of us, Paddy wasn’t perfect. He hated fireworks, he despised being by himself (and would shout incessantly whenever he was left on his own), and he had an irrational dislike of motorbikes and men wearing motorbike helmets. But he rocked his neuroses. He wore them proudly and never whined about his shortcomings. He made sure that his issues were contained to the situations in which they were merited, and didn’t let them spill over into other parts of his life. Consequently, he never complained, held a grudge, or acted out of character. There’s a real nobility in the ability to own your shortcomings: he was awesome even when he wasn’t.
Paddy took the time to teach me all of these things despite the fact that his heart already belonged to another. He was steadfastly and totally there for my wife, and loved her dramatically. He was always there when she needed him, and she loved him fiercely. Her pain at his passing is the one thing he would have tried his little heart out to prevent. So despite his already busy schedule loving her, Paddy took time out to love me too, and to teach me, patiently and over and over again, that it wasn’t and isn’t all about me.
By the time of his passing, Paddy was very old. He was in a lot of pain from his arthritis, could no longer move at anything beyond a shuffle, and even found it hard to eat (something that was hard to see because food was his greatest passion). Despite all of this pain, he still did everything he could to show his love for us, and to be (simply) awesome. I hope that, when I get to be as old and run down as he was, I can still focus on those around me.
Paddy, you’re desperately missed. You were an inspiration, you were my teacher and my mentor, and our touchstone.