Who can resist a joyful dog?

© Gail Boenning 2018 — Eleven year old Mara enjoying a morning river wade.

Was that clickbait? Before my dog story, I’ve a quick note on expectation. I met a friend a week or two back and we talked about her family’s upcoming vacation to Colorado. One night at dinner she was telling her family about the research she’d done and shared possible high points of interest. Her eighteen year old said, “Mom, stop. I want to go into this vacation with low expectations. That way I won’t be disappointed.”

My friend and I had a good laugh and I thought This kid is going to have a good life. He already knows that grand expectations set us up for disappointment. He’s open to appreciate the moments as they come.

I hope my dog story does not disappoint. It’s not even my story. I’ve stolen it from James Herriot, the Yorkshire veterinarian who wrote about his life and practice.

Most miraculous of all is Dr. Herriot’s literary gift. With seemingly effortless art, this man tells his stories with perfect timing and optimum scale. Many more famous authors could work for a lifetime and not achieve more flawless literary control than this. ~Alfred Ames, Chicago Tribune Book World

Throughout his series of four books: All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful, The Lord God Made Them All, Herriot tells tales of a Pekingese named Tricki Woo and his rich, benevolent and eccentric owner Mrs Pumphrey.

Throughout his visits to Mrs. Pumphrey’s extravagant home Herriot thoroughly enjoyed the treats of sweet smelling soaps, a warm blazing fire and a glass of sherry, as compared to his work on wind blown hillsides and in drafty barns. Tricki’s ailments were never very serious and Herriot was always able to quickly remedy whatever troubled the poor chap with one exception.

You see, Mrs. Pumphrey loved her little dog to the point of giving him everything she thought he needed — soft pillows, special ring toss games, and too much food along with rich treats. That last bit is what put the fellow in a bad way. His master’s generosity with biscuits and scraps built inches around his small frame. Despite scolding and warnings to cut back on each of Herriot’s visits, Mrs. Pumphrey simply could not hold back what she’d decided showed love — treats.

It got to the point that Tricki Woo could barely move. He panted non-stop. When the butler took the Peke to the garden to throw rings, Triki watched the rings sail past and watched as the butler went to retrieve them. One day, Mrs. Pumphrey called the surgery in a panic. Mr. Herriot, Will you come? Tricki won’t get up.

Herriot knew the cure for Tricki’s distress — a change of environment. Of course, he didn’t explain it that way to Mrs. Pumphrey who wrung her hands and offered weak protests. He told the widow he needed to observe Triki’s listlessness at the surgery.

It just so happened that the surgery was home to a pack of rowdy, busy dogs who loved to run, play and romp in the garden. They also ate a sensible diet — without biscuits, treats and tidbits.

On the first day, Tricki took little interest in his surroundings, but by the second his eyes had brightened and he ambled over to the bowl at feeding time. Within a few days he was taking part in garden games with his new friends. The change in his physique and attitude was remarkable.

Herriot kept Tricki for a fortnight and then returned him to his loving home with clear instructions for a sensible diet and regular exercise. A change of environment turned Tricki into a new dog. Mrs. Pumphrey was pleased to have her Tricki back. If memory serves, he went on to live a full life with his master who learned to show her love in other ways.

In The Social Animal by David Brooks, the author clearly illustrates how our environments and behaviors are interconnected. Through a fictional character named Erica, Brooks demonstrates how the culture that surrounds us often determines our paths — willpower is often not enough to bring about lasting change.

Brooks had this to say about his character:

But she could make one decision — to change her environment. And if she could change her environment, she would be subject to a whole different set of cues and unconscious cultural influences. It’s easier to change your environment than to change your insides. Change your environment and then let the new cues do the work.

The wisdom I’ve found is that environment matters — a lot. Look inside. Know your values. Surround yourself with people who do what you want to do and act how you want to act. Stay away from those who paint pictures you don’t want to be in. The rest will take care of itself.

Find joy.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store